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The Computer and the Brain (1958) [pdf] (archive.org)
59 points by jstewartmobile 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 10 comments



Von Neumann was a frightfully bright guy. He's also why I don't trust the predictive power of a model based on data fitting rather than an actual theory about the underlying mechanism. "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

I found this book a great read, but people who are emotionally invested in the error that the Church-Turing thesis implies brains are Turing machines will probably not like it.


Whether brains "are" TM's may be mostly moot from a simulation/emulation/modelling standpoint. We may not need a perfect model to get a "good enough" model. Biological systems are generally designed to handle a degree of noise and damage and still function fairly well. Thus noise introduced by the imperfections of a model may similarly not sufficiently degrade its ability to act like a normal brain.

On a really small scale our models may lack certain properties of biological brains, but it may not matter for most emulation. How much detail and/or actual "mirroring" is necessary to get good-enough emulation is still an unknown but key question.

And, I suspect we may find that fully mirroring biological systems is not the most efficient way to design good AI similar to how flapping wings were not the best way to get powered flight.


I like how Dijkstra put it:

"[...] whether Machines Can Think, a question of which we now know that it is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim." [1]

[1] http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/transcriptions/EWD08xx/EW...


Why is that not relevant , its pretty clear that Submarines cant swim since they don't have a will of there own, they are only propelled to where the people inside them, who can think ,want them to go.


Depends how one defines "swim". That'll probably turn into a meandering philosophical debate, based on my experience debating "intent" with other IT people.


Definitely. We're still following the first half of the book almost to the letter.

Teller once noted how effortlessly he talked to small children, then wondered if he employed the same knack to talk to everyone else...


I highly recommend this book (talks) for anyone interested in a computation approach to neuroscience. I found it remarkable how far seeing Von Neumann was in relating computation to the understanding of the brain. Here is the physical copy if anyone is interested.

https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300181111/computer-and-b...


Von Neumann died before he finished writing this book.

Another unfinished work of his that's worth checking out is Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata where he introduces his conception of self-replicating automata [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann_universal_construc...


IIRC this book was difficult/boring so I haven't read it yet, but I remember that I bought it because this article that mentioned it was quite exciting:

You do realize that John von Neumann spent the last 10 years of his life singlehandedly developing a theory of computing based on cellular automata? The computer you're reading this blog rant on was his frigging prototype! He was going to throw it out and make a better one! And then he died of cancer, just like my brother Dave did, just like so many people with so much more to give and so much more life to live. And we're not making headway on cancer, either, because our computers and languages are such miserable crap.

Source: http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2006/03/moores-law-is-crap.h...


thanks, will read this.




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