In This Review

Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI
Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI
By John Brockman (ed.)
320 pp, Penguin, 2019

In 1955, John McCarthy coined the term “artificial intelligence” (AI) in a grant proposal that he co-wrote with his colleague Marvin Minsky and a group of other computer scientists seeking funding for a workshop they hoped to hold at Dartmouth College the following summer. Their choice of words set in motion decades of semantic squabbles (“Can machines think?”) and fueled anxieties over malicious robots such as HAL 9000, the sentient computer in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the cyborg assassin played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. If McCarthy and Minsky had chosen a blander phrase—say, “automaton studies”—the concept might not have appealed as much to Hollywood producers and journalists, even as the technology developed apace.

But McCarthy and Minsky weren’t thinking about the long term. They had a much narrower motive for coming up with a new phrase: they were reluctant to invite Norbert Wiener to the

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  • KENNETH NEIL CUKIER is Senior Editor at The Economist and a co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think.
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