Homunculi! Homunculi Everywhere!

In the "smart philosopher gets annoyed" category, Colin McGinn (Miami) thoroughly dismantles Ray Kurzweil's How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. From the review (published in the New York Review of Books and valuable reading for students in Minds and Machines),

So he is a computer engineer specializing in word recognition technology, with a side interest in bold predictions about future machines. He is not a professional neuroscientist or psychologist or philosopher. Yet here we have a book purporting to reveal—no less—“the secret of human thought.” Kurzweil is going to tell us, in no uncertain terms, “how to create a mind”: that is to say, he has a grand theory of the human mind, in which its secrets will be finally revealed.

These are strong claims indeed, and one looks forward eagerly to learning what this new theory will look like. Perhaps at first one feels a little skeptical that Kurzweil has succeeded where so many have failed, but one tries to keep an open mind—hoping the book will justify the hype so blatantly brandished in its title. After all, Kurzweil has honors from three US presidents (so says Wikipedia) and was the “principal inventor of the first CCD flatbed scanner” and other useful devices, as well as receiving many other entrepreneurial awards. He is clearly a man of many parts—but is ultimate theoretician of the mind one of them?

Answer: A resounding 'no', but do read on to appreciate just how badly Kurzweil bungles it.

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