Favorite Books of 2011, New Yorker
New York Times Editors’ Choice
Best Books of the Year, Boston Globe
The Most Human Human is a provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human.
—The New Yorker
—The Wall Street Journal
—The New York Times Book Review
For the first time in history, we are interacting with computers so sophisticated that we think they’re human beings. This is a remarkable feat of human ingenuity, but what does it say about our humanity? Are we really no better at being human than the machines we’ve created?
By mimicking our conversation and behavior, computers have recently come within a single vote of passing the Turing test, the widely accepted threshold at which a machine can be said to be “thinking” or “intelligent.” In this witty, wide-ranging and inspiring investigation, Brian Christian takes the recent and breathtaking advances in artificial intelligence as the opportunity to rethink what it means to be human, and what it means to be intelligent, in the twenty-first century.
Competing head-to-head with the world’s leading AI programs at the annual Turing test competition, he uses their astonishing achievements as well as their equally fascinating failings to reveal our most human abilities: to learn, to communicate, to intuit and to understand. And in an age when computers may be steering us away from these activities, he shows us how to become the most human humans that we can be.
Drawing on science, philosophy, literature and the arts, and touching on aspects of life as diverse as language, work, school, chess, speed-dating, art, video games, psychiatry and the law, The Most Human Human shows that, far from being a threat to our humanity, computers provide a better means than ever before of understanding what it is.
“Fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly winning . . . Investigates the nature of human interactions, the meaning of language, and the essence of what sets us apart from machines . . . Fabulous.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Remarkable . . . a philosophical joyride . . . of such wit and originality.”
—The London Times
“Entertaining and informative.”
“Lively and thought-stirring . . . an invaluable sourcebook on computing in modern-day life.”
—The Onion A.V. Club
“Engaging and thought-provoking . . . A background in computer science, philosophy and poetry serves Christian well. His prose is cogent and quick, heartfelt and thoughtful.”
“A fascinating exploration of what it means to be human. This book will surely change the way readers think about their conversations.”
—Booklist, Starred Review
“The Most Human Human is immensely ambitious and bold, intellectually provocative, while at the same time entertaining and witty—a delightful book about how to live a meaningful, thriving life.”
—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams and Ghost
“A strange, fertile, and sometimes beautiful book. Brian Christian takes both the deep limitations and halting progress of artificial intelligence as an occasion for thinking about the most human activity—the art of conversation.”
—Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft
“This is such an important book, a book I’ve been waiting and hoping for. Machines are getting so smart that it forces us to take a completely fresh look at what smart is, and at what human is.”
—David Shenk, author of The Forgetting and The Genius in All of Us
“A book exploring the wild frontiers of chatbots is appealing enough; I never expected to discover in its pages such an eye-opening inquest into human imagination, thought, conversation, love and deception. Who would have guessed that the best way to understand humanity was to study its imitators?”
—David Eagleman, author of Sum and Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain