It was a dark and stormy night. Four great minds, at the behest of a fifth, convened at Cambridge in 1949 to discuss artificial intelligence over a five-course dinner. Had geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, physicist Erwin Schrödinger, mathematician Alan Turing, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein actually met that night in the rooms of Britain's science adviser C.P. Snow, they may have enacted the drama revealed in The Cambridge Quintet
. This work of "scientific fiction" presents what could have been the dawn of the still-raging debate over the nature of intelligence and its reproduction in "metal, glass, and plastic".
John L. Casti's characterizations allow the reader to savour the meal and pleasantries as well as the heated arguments. His impatient, arrogant Wittgenstein betrays a frenzied frustration with the subject, sporadically attacking the very notion of artificial intelligence as impossible. Turing, quieter and yet more forceful, explains his then- new ideas with the certainty of a prophet waiting for the world to catch up with him. Haldane, Schrödinger, and Snow play the two off one another while bringing their own considerable intellects to the subject for the first time. Discussion ranges from the nature of thought to the role of language in the brain with arguments that are sophisticated but informal. Casti takes some anachronistic liberties, but these serve to remind us that, had they not both died in 1951, Wittgenstein and Turing would have made contributions of great significance to artificial intelligence theory. As the men finish their dinner, they have reached no conclusion or agreement. Like a fine meal, the satisfaction found in this book comes from its consumption, not its digestion. -- Rob Lightner
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'Great fun: a dramatic and accessible introduction to the provocative modern field of artificial intelligence' -- GUARDIAN