It is the business of the future to be dangerous. . . . The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur.
Adventures in Ideas

The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Ultimately, after endless rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points in which one may be optimistic about the future of mankind.
The Future of an Illusion

The mind of man is capable of anything  - because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.
Heart of Darkness

THE HUMAN BRAIN seems to be in a state of uneasy truce, with occasional skirmishes and rare battles. The existence of brain components with predispositions to certain behavior is not an invitation to fatalism or despair: we have substantial control over the relative importance of each component. Anatomy is not destiny, but it is not irrelevant either. At least some mental illness can be understood in terms of a conflict among the contending neural parties.


The mutual repression among the components goes in many directions. We have discussed limbic and neocortical repression of the R - complex, but through society, there may also be R - complex repression of the neocortex, and repression of one cerebral hemisphere by the other. In general, human societies are not innovative. They are hierarchical and ritualistic. Suggestions for change are greeted with suspicion: they imply an unpleasant future variation in ritual and hierarchy: an exchange of one set of rituals for another, or perhaps for a less structured society with fewer rituals.


And yet there are times when societies must change. “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present” was Abraham Lincoln’s description of this truth. Much of the difficulty in attempting to restructure American and other societies arises from this resistance by groups with vested interests in the status quo. Significant change might require those who are now high in the hierarchy to move downward many steps. This seems to them undesirable and is resisted.

But some change, in fact some significant change, is apparent in Western society - certainly not enough, but more than in almost any other society. Older and more static cultures are much more resistant to change. In Colin Turnbull’s book The Forest People, there is a poignant description of a crippled Pygmy girl who was provided by visiting anthropologists with a stunning technological innovation, the crutch. Despite the fact that it greatly eased the suffering of the little girl, the adults, including her parents, showed no particular interest in this invention.* There are many other cases of intolerance to novelty in traditional societies; and diverse pertinent examples could be drawn from the lives of such men as Leonardo, Galileo, Desiderius Erasmus, Charles Darwin, or Sigmund Freud.

* In defense of the Pygmies, perhaps I should note that a friend of mine who has spent time with them says that for such activities as the patient stalking and hunting of mammals and fish they prepare themselves through marijuana intoxication, which helps to make the long waits, boring to anyone further evolved than a Komodo dragon, at least moderately tolerable. Ganja is, he says, their only cultivated crop. It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization.


(The marijuana - intoxicated Pygmy, poised patiently for an hour with his fishing spear aloft, is earnestly burlesqued by the beer - sodden riflemen, protectively camouflaged in red plaid, who, stumbling through the nearby woods, terrorize American suburbs each Thanksgiving.)

The traditionalism of societies in a static state is generally adaptive: the cultural forms have been evolved painfully over many generations and are known to serve well. Like mutations, any random change is apt to serve less well. But also like mutations, changes are necessary if adaptation to new environmental circumstances is to be achieved. The tension between these two tendencies marks much of the political conflict of our age. At a time characterized by a rapidly varying external physical and social environment - such as our time - accommodation to and acceptance of change is adaptive; in societies that inhabit static environments, it is not.


The hunter/gatherer lifestyles have served mankind well for most of our history, and I think there is unmistakable evidence that we are in a way designed by evolution for such a culture; when we abandon the hunter/gatherer life we abandon the childhood of our species. Hunter/gatherer and high technology cultures are both products of the neocortex. We are now irreversibly set upon the latter path. But it will take some getting used to. Britain has produced a range of remarkably gifted multidisciplinary scientists and scholars who are sometimes described as polymaths. The group included, in recent times, Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead, J. B. S. Haldane, J. D. Bernal, and Jacob Bronowski.


Russell commented that the development of such gifted individuals required a childhood period in which there was little or no pressure for conformity, a time in which the child could develop and pursue his or her own interests no matter how unusual or bizarre. Because of the strong pressures for social conformity both by the government and by peer groups in the United States - and even more so in the Soviet Union, Japan and the People’s Republic of China - I think that such countries are producing proportionately fewer polymaths. I also think there is evidence that Britain is in a steep current decline in this respect.

Particularly today, when so many difficult and complex problems face the human species, the development of broad and powerful thinking is desperately needed. There should be a way, consistent with the democratic ideals espoused by all of these countries, to encourage, in a humane and caring context, the intellectual development of especially promising youngsters. Instead we find, in the instructional and examination systems of most of these countries, an almost reptilian ritualization of the educational process. I sometimes wonder whether the appeal of sex and aggression in contemporary American television and film offerings reflects the fact that the R-complex is well developed in all of us, while many neocortical functions are, partly because of the repressive nature of schools and societies, more rarely expressed, less familiar and insufficiently treasured.

As a consequence of the enormous social and technological changes of the last few centuries, the world is not working well. We do not live in traditional and static societies. But our governments, in resisting change, act as if we did. Unless we destroy ourselves utterly, the future belongs to those societies that, while not ignoring the reptilian and mammalian parts of our being, enable the characteristically human components of our nature to flourish; to those societies that encourage diversity rather than conformity; to those societies willing to invest resources in a variety of social, political, economic and cultural experiments, and prepared to sacrifice short - term advantage for long - term benefit; to those societies that treat new ideas as delicate, fragile and immensely valuable pathways to the future.

A better understanding of the brain may also one day bear on such vexing social issues as the definition of death and the acceptability of abortions. The current ethos in the West seems to be that it is permissible in a good cause to kill nonhuman primates and certainly other mammals; but it is impermissible (for individuals) to kill human beings under similar circumstances. The logical implication is that it is the characteristically human qualities of the human brain that make the difference. In the same way, if substantial parts of the neocortex are functioning, the comatose patient can certainly be said to be alive in a human sense, even if there is major impairment of other physical and neurological functions.


On the other hand, a patient otherwise alive but exhibiting no sign of neocortical activity (including the neocortical activities in sleep) might, in a human sense, be described as dead. In many such cases the neocortex has failed irreversibly but the limbic system, R-complex, and lower brainstem are still operative, and such fundamental functions as .respiration and blood circulation are unimpaired. I think more work is required on human brain physiology before a well - supported legal definition of death can be generally accepted, but the road to such a definition will very likely take us through considerations of the neocortex as opposed to the other components of the brain.

Similar ideas could help to resolve the great abortion debate flourishing in America in the late 1970s - a controversy marked on both sides by extreme vehemence and a denial of any merit to opposing points of view. At one extreme is the position that a woman has an innate right of “control of her own body,” which encompasses, it is said, arranging for the death of a fetus on a variety of grounds including psychological disinclination and economic inability to raise a child.


At the other extreme is the existence of a “right to life,” the assertion that the killing of even a zygote, a fertilized egg before the first embryonic division, is murder because the zygote has the “potential” to become a human being. I realize that in an issue so emotionally charged any proposed solution is unlikely to receive plaudits from the partisans of either extreme, and sometimes our hearts and our heads lead us to different conclusions. However, based on some of the ideas in previous chapters of this book, I would like to offer at least an attempt at a reasonable compromise.


There is no question that legalized abortions avoid the tragedy and butchery of illegal and incompetent “back - alley” abortions, and that in a civilization whose very continuance is threatened by the specter of uncontrolled population growth, widely available medical abortions can serve an important social need. But infanticide would solve both problems and has been employed widely by many human communities, including segments of the classical Greek civilization, which is so generally considered the cultural antecedent of our own. And it is widely practiced today: there are many parts of the world where one out of every four newborn babies does not survive the first year of life.


Yet by our laws and mores, infanticide is murder beyond any question. Since a baby born prematurely in the seventh month of pregnancy is in no significant respect different from a fetus in utero in the seventh month, it must, it seems to me, follow that abortion, at least in the last trimester, is very close to murder. Objections that the fetus in the third trimester is still not breathing seem specious: Is it permissible to commit infanticide after birth if the umbilicus has not yet been severed, or if the baby has not yet taken its first breath?


Likewise, if I am psychologically unprepared to live with a stranger - in army boot camp or college dormitory, for example - I do not thereby have a right to kill him, and my annoyance at some of the uses of my tax money does not extend to exterminating the recipients of those taxes. The civil liberties point of view is often muddled in such debates. Why, it is sometimes asked, should the beliefs of others on this issue have to extend to me? But those who do not personally support the conventional prohibition against murder arc nevertheless required by our society to abide by the criminal code.

On the opposite side of the discussion, the phrase “right to life” is an excellent example of a “buzz word,” designed to inflame rather than illuminate. There is no right to life in any society on Earth today, nor has there been at any former time (with a few - rare exceptions, such as among the Jains of India). We raise farm animals for slaughter; destroy forests; pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; hunt deer and elk for sport, leopards for their pelts, and whales for dog food; entwine dolphins, gasping and writhing, in great tuna nets; and club seal pups to death for “population management.”


All these beasts and vegetables are as alive as we. What is protected in many human societies is not life, but human life. And even with this protection, we wage “modern” wars on civilian populations with a toll so terrible we are, most of us, afraid to consider it very deeply. Often such mass murders are justified by racial or nationalistic redefinitions of our opponents as less than human.

In the same way, the argument about the “potential” to be human seems to me particularly weak. Any human egg or sperm under appropriate circumstances has the potential to become a human being. Yet male masturbation and nocturnal emissions are generally considered natural acts and not cause for murder indictments. In a single ejaculation there are enough spermatozoa for the generation of hundreds of millions of human beings. In addition, it is possible that in the not - too - distant future we may be able to clone a whole human being from a single cell taken from essentially anywhere in the donor’s body.


If so, any cell in my body has the potential to become a human being if properly preserved until the time of a practical cloning technology. Am I committing mass murder if I prick my finger and lose a drop of blood? The issues are clearly complex. The solution, equally clearly, must involve a compromise among a number of cherished but conflicting values. The key practical question is to determine when a fetus becomes human. This in turn rests on what we mean by human. Surely not having a human shape, because an artifact of organic materials that resembled a human being but was constructed for the purpose would certainly not be considered human.

Likewise, an extraterrestrial intelligent being who did not resemble human beings but who had ethical, intellectual and artistic accomplishments exceeding our own should certainly fall within our prohibitions against murder. It is not what we look like that specifies our humanity, but what we are. The reason we prohibit the killing of human beings must be because of some quality human beings possess, a quality we especially prize, that few or no other organisms on Earth enjoy. It cannot be the ability to feel pain or deep emotions, because that surely extends to many of the animals we gratuitously slaughter.

This essential human quality, I believe, can only be our intelligence. If so, the particular sanctity of human life can be identified with the development and functioning of the neocortex. We cannot require its full development, because that does not occur until many years after birth. But perhaps we might set the transition to humanity at the time when neocortical activity begins, as determined by electroencephalography of the fetus. Some insights on when the brain develops a distinctly human character emerge from the simplest embryological observations (see the figure on page 208).


Very little work has been done in this field to date, and it seems to me that such investigations could play a major role in achieving an acceptable compromise in the abortion debate. Undoubtedly there would be a variation from fetus to fetus as to the time of initiation on the first neocortical EEC signals, and a legal definition of the. beginning of characteristically human life should be biased conservatively -  that is, toward the youngest fetus that exhibits such activity. Perhaps the transition would fall toward the .end of the first trimester or near the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy.


(Here we are talking about what, in rational society, should be prohibited by law: anyone who feels that abortion of a younger fetus might be murder should be under no legal obligation to perform or accept such an abortion.)

But a consistent application of these ideas must avoid human chauvinism. If there are other organisms that share the intelligence of a somewhat backward but fully developed human being, they at least should be offered the same protection against murder that we are willing to extend to human beings late in their uterine existence. Since the evidence for intelligence in dolphins, whales and apes is now at least moderately compelling, any consistent moral posture on abortion should, I would think, include firm strictures against at least the gratuitous slaughter of these animals. But the ultimate key to the solution of the abortion debate would seem to be the investigation of prepartum neocortical activity.

And what of the future evolution of the human brain? There is a wide and growing body of evidence that many forms of mental illness are the result of chemical or wiring malfunctions in the brain. Since many mental diseases have the same symptoms, they may arise from the same malfunctions and should be accessible to the same cures.

The pioneering nineteenth - century British neurologist Hughlings Jackson remarked, “Find out about dreams and you will find out about insanity.” Severely dream deprived subjects often begin hallucinating in daytime. Schizophrenia is often accompanied by nighttime sleep impairment, but whether as a cause or an effect is uncertain. One of the most striking aspects of schizophrenia is how unhappy and despairing its sufferers generally are. Might schizophrenia be what happens when the dragons are no longer safely chained at night; when they break the left - hemisphere shackles and burst forth in daylight? Other diseases perhaps result from an impairment of right - hemisphere function: Obsessive - compulsives, for example, are very rarely found to make intuitive leaps.

In the middle 1960s Lester Grinspoon and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School performed a set of controlled experiments on the relative value of various therapeutic techniques for treating schizophrenia. They are psychiatrists, and if they had any bias it was toward the use of verbal rather than pharmacological techniques. But they found to their surprise that the recently developed tranquilizer, thioridazine (one of a group of approximately equally effective antipsychotic drugs known as phenothiazines), was far more effective in controlling if not curing the disease; in fact, they found that thioridazine alone was at least as effective - in the judgment of the patients, their relatives, and the psychiatrists - as thioridazine plus psychotherapy. The integrity of the experimenters in the face of this unexpected finding is breathtaking.


(It is difficult to imagine any experiment that would convince leading practitioners of many political or religious philosophies of the superiority of a competing doctrine.)

Recent research shows that endorphins, small protein molecules which occur naturally in the brains of rats and other mammals, can induce in these animals marked muscular rigidity and stupor reminiscent of schizophrenic catatonia. The molecular or neurological cause of schizophrenia - which was once responsible for one out of ten hospital - bed occupancies in the United States - is still unknown; but it is not implausible that someday we will discover precisely what locale or set of neurochemicals in the brain determines this malfunction.

A curious question in medical ethics emerges from the experiments of Grinspoon et al. The tranquilizers are now so effective in treating schizophrenia that it is widely considered unethical to withhold them from a patient. The implication is that the experiments showing tranquilizers to be effective cannot be repeated. It is thought to be an unnecessary cruelty to deny the patient the most successful treatment for his condition. Consequently, there can no longer be a control group of schizophrenics that is not given tranquilizers. If critical experiments in the chemotherapy of brain malfunction can be performed only once, they must be performed the first time very well indeed.

An even more striking example of such chemotherapy is the use of lithium carbonate in the treatment of manic depressives. The ingestion of carefully controlled doses of lithium, the lightest and simplest metal, produces startling improvements - again as reported from the patients’ perspective and from the perspective of others - in this agonizing disease. Why so simple a therapy is so strikingly effective is unknown, but it most likely relates to the enzyme chemistry of the brain.

A very strange mental illness is Gilles de la Tourette’s disease (named, as always, after the physician who first drew attention to it, not after the most celebrated sufferer of the malady). One of the many motor and speech disorders that are among the symptoms of this disease is a remarkable compulsion to utter - in whatever language the patient is most fluent - an uninterrupted stream of obscenities and profanities. Physicians describe the identification of this disease as “corridor diagnosis”: The patient can, with great difficulty, control his compulsion for the length of a short medical visit; as soon as the physician leaves the room for the corridor, the scatologies overflow like the flood from a burst dam. There is a place in the brain that makes “dirty” words (and apes may have it).

There are very few words that the right hemisphere can deal with competently - not much more than hello, goodbye, and ... a few choice obscenities. Perhaps Tourette’s disease affects the left hemisphere only. The British anthropologist Bernard Campbell of Cambridge University suggests that the limbic system is rather well integrated with the right cerebral hemisphere, which, as we have seen, deals much better with emotions than the left hemisphere does. Whatever else they involve, obscenities carry with them strong emotions. Yet Gilles de la Tourette’s disease, complex as it is, seems to be a specific deficiency in a neuronal transmitter chemical, and appears to be alleviated by carefully controlled doses of haloperidol.

Recent evidence indicates that such limbic hormones as ACTH and vasopressin can greatly improve the ability of animals to retain and recall memories. These and similar examples suggest, if not the ultimate perfectibility of the brain, at least prospects for its substantial improvement - perhaps through altering the abundance or controlling the production of small brain proteins. Such examples also greatly relieve the burden of guilt commonly experienced by sufferers from a mental disease, a burden rarely felt in victims of, say measles.

The remarkable fissurization, convolutions and cortical folding of the brain, as well as the fact that the brain fits so snugly into the skull, are clear indications that packing more brain into the present braincase is going to be difficult. Larger brains with larger skulls could not develop until very recently because of limits on the size of the pelvis and the birth canal. But the advent of Caesarean section - performed rarely two thousand years ago but much more commonly today - does permit larger brain volumes. Another possibility is a medical technology sufficiently advanced to permit full - term development of the fetus outside of the uterus.


However, the rate of evolutionary change is so slow that none of the problems facing us today is likely to be overcome by significantly larger neo - cortices and consequent superior intelligences. Before such a time, but not in the immediate future, it may be possible, by brain surgery, to improve those components of the brain we consider worth improving and to inhibit further those components that may be responsible for some of the perils and contradictions facing mankind. But the complexity, and redundancy of brain function make such a course of action impractical for the near future, even if it were socially desirable. We may be able to engineer genes before we are able to engineer brains.

It is sometimes suggested that such experiments may provide unscrupulous governments - and there are many of them - with tools to control their citizenry still further. For example, we can imagine a government that implants hundreds of tiny electrodes in the “pleasure” and “pain” centers of the brains of newborn children, electrodes capable of remote radio stimulation - perhaps at frequencies or with access codes known only to the government. When the child grows up, the government might stimulate his pleasure centers if he has performed, in work quota and ideology, an acceptable day’s work; otherwise it might stimulate his pain centers.


This is a nightmarish vision, but I do not think it is an argument against experiments on electrical stimulation of the brain. It is, rather, an argument against letting the government control the hospitals. Any people that will permit its government to implant such electrodes has already lost the battle and may well deserve what it gets. As in all such technological nightmares, the principal task is to foresee what is possible; to educate use and misuse; and to prevent its organizational, bureaucratic and governmental abuse.

There is already a range of psychotropic and mood - altering drugs which are, to varying degrees, dangerous or benign (ethyl alcohol is the most widely used and one of the most dangerous), and which appear to act on specific areas of the R-complex, limbic system and neocortex. If present trends continue, even without the encouragement of governments people will pursue the home - laboratory synthesis of and self - experimentation with such drugs - an activity that represents a small further step in our knowledge of the brain, its disorders and untapped potentials.

There is reason to think that many alkaloids and other drugs which affect behavior work by being chemically similar to natural small brain proteins, of which the endorphins are one example. Many of these small proteins act on the limbic system and are concerned with our emotional states. It is now possible to manufacture small proteins made of any specified sequence of amino acids.


Thus, the time may soon come when a great variety of molecules will be synthesized capable of inducing human emotional states, including extremely rare ones. For example, there is some evidence that atropine - one of the chief active ingredients in hemlock, foxglove, deadly nightshade, and jimson weed - induces the illusion of flying; and indeed such plants seem to have been the principal constituents of unguents self - administered to the genital mucosa by witches in the Middle Ages - who, rather than actually flying as they boasted, were in fact atropine - tripping.


But a vivid hallucination of flying is an extremely specific sensation to be conveyed by a relatively simple molecule. Perhaps there are a range of small proteins which will be synthesized and which will produce emotional states of a sort never before experienced by human beings. This is one of many potential near - term developments in brain chemistry which hold great promise both for good and for evil, depending on the wisdom of those who conduct, control and apply this research.

When I leave my office and get into my car, I find that, unless I make a specific effort of will, I will drive myself home. When I leave home and get into my car, unless I make a similar conscious effort, there is a part of my brain that arranges events so that I end up at my office. If I change my home or my office, after a short period of learning, the new locales supplant the old ones, and whatever brain mechanism controls such behavior has readily adapted to the new coordinates.


This is very much like self - programming a part of the brain that works like a digital computer. The comparison is even more striking when we realize that epileptics, suffering from a psychomotor seizure, often go through an exactly comparable set of activities, the only difference being perhaps that they run a few more red lights than I usually do, but have no conscious memory of having performed these actions once the seizure has subsided. Such automatism is a typical symptom of temporal - lobe epilepsy; it also characterizes my first half - hour after awakening.


Certainly not all of the brain works like a simple digital computer; the part that does the reprogramming, for example, is rather different. But there are enough similarities to suggest that a compatible working arrangement between electronic computers and at least some components of the brain - in an intimate neurophysiological association - can be constructively organized.

The Spanish neurophysiologist Jose Delgado has devised working feedback loops between electrodes implanted in the brains of chimpanzees and remote electronic computers. Communication between brain and computer is accomplished through a radio link.

Miniaturization of electronic computers has now reached the stage where such feedback loops can be “hardwired” and do not require a radio link with a remote computer terminal. For example, it is entirely possible to devise a self - contained feedback loop in which the signs of an on - coming epileptic seizure are recognized and appropriate brain centers are automatically stimulated to forestall or ameliorate the attack. We are not yet at the stage where this is a reliable procedure, but the time when it will be does not seem very far off.

Perhaps some day it will be possible to add a variety of cognitive and intellectual prosthetic devices to the brain - a kind of eyeglasses for the mind. This would be in the spirit of the past accretionary evolution of the brain and is probably far more feasible than attempting to restructure the existing brain.

Perhaps one day we will have surgically implanted in our brains small replaceable computer modules or radio terminals which will provide us with a rapid and fluent knowledge of Basque, Urdu, Amharic, Ainu, Albanian, Nu, Hopi, !Kung, or delphinese; or numerical values of the incomplete gamma function and the Tschebysheff polynomials; or the natural history of animal spoor; or all legal precedents for the ownership of floating islands; or radio telepathy connecting several human beings, at least temporarily, in a form of symbiotic association previously unknown to our species.

But the real extensions of our brains, particularly for the uniquely human aspects of the neocortex, are already in the course of being accomplished. Some of them are so old we have forgotten that they have occurred. Rich and unrepressive learning environments for children represent a remarkably promising and successful educational tool. Written language is a notable invention that is essentially a simple machine for the storage and retrieval of quite complex information.


The amount of information stored in a large library far exceeds the amount of information in either the human genome or the human brain. The information is certainly not stored as efficiently as it is in biological systems, but it is still serviceably compact, and the development of microfilm, microfiche and the like has greatly improved the extrasomatic information storage capabilities of mankind. The number of bits of information contained in human libraries, works of art, and other cultural institutions would provide a point in the chart on page 26 many factors of 10 beyond the right - hand edge of that figure.

Writing is, however, very simple machinery. Much more sophisticated and far more promising extrasomatic information storage and processing lies in the electronic computer. To give some idea of the level of development of such computers and their programs, they can today play perfect tic-tac-toe, world - class checkers, expert chess and practice passable psychotherapy. A computer system now exists which will transcribe a live performance of a classical or other melody into conventional musical notation. The amount of information storage and the speed of information processing by computers are, of course, prodigious.

A non-directive psychotherapy program developed by Joseph Weizenbaum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a good example of the present serviceability of psychiatric computer programs (which are, incidentally, far from the most difficult or most elaborate programs in existence). After the psychotherapy program was developed, a human psychiatrist was brought in to relate in lower - case type (via a typewriter keyboard on an interactive console) with the program, which prints out in upper case. The exchange was probably intended as heuristic but may just possibly have gotten out of hand - on the human side.


The conversation begins with the human psychiatrist saying,

doctor, i have terrible news


yes, there is a computer program at m.i.t. that’ll ruin us


i have seen it working


it’s frightening - you must see it


you sound depressed to me


yes - perhaps
i do too
we are both in the same boat with respect to that computer
you are a comfort
at a time like this you want to talk about me
because you share my feelings about that damned computer
that, of course, you hate computers too
why not, they’re hardly human, are they
no computer could converse as you can, for example
i can’t understand how anyone could be fooled by a mere
no. after all, there is nothing creative about a computer
i am convinced i am correct

no, not in the least, not at all. not even a little.
you said you agreed with me, didn’t you
why don’t you try to dissuade me - computers diddle with numbers, that’s all
you can’t
for example, could a computer in a conversation like this raise a new topic
precisely as you just did
yes, and that’s what shows the difference between a man and a computer

The computer psychiatrist lacks sophistication, training, sensitivity, human intuition; it is mechanical (of course!), inflexible and relatively unresponsive to emotional nuances and nonverbal cues. And yet it has produced a conversation more intelligent than many. Its response on “a new topic” is stunning. But that response is very likely only a fluke. The program is undoubtedly designed to pay attention to words such as “mother,” “father,” “parent,” and so on; after the computer’s clock has ticked away so many minutes, if these words have not been introduced, the program is designed to come up with,

“You seem to have avoided . . .”

Emerging at just the moment it did, the remark gives an eerie impression of insight.

But what is the game of psychotherapy if not a very complex, learned set of responses to human situations? Is not the psychiatrist also preprogrammed to give certain responses? Non - directive psychotherapy clearly requires very simple computer programs, and the appearance of insight requires only slightly more sophisticated programs. I do not intend these remarks to disparage the psychiatric profession in any way, but rather to augur the coming of machine intelligence.


Computers are by no means yet at a high enough level of development to recommend the widespread use of computer psychotherapy. But it does not seem to me a forlorn hope that we may one day have extremely patient, widely available and, as least for certain problems, adequately competent computer therapists. Some programs already in existence are given high marks by patients because the therapist is perceived as unbiased and extremely generous with his or her or its time.
Computers are now being developed in the United States that will be able to detect and diagnose their own malfunctions.

When systematic performance errors are found, the faulty components will be automatically bypassed or replaced. Internal consistency will be tested by repeated operation and through standard programs whose consequences are known independently; repair will be accomplished chiefly by redundant components. There are already in existence programs - e.g., in chess - playing computers - capable of learning from experience and from other computers. As time goes on, the computer appears to become increasingly intelligent.


Once the programs are so complex that their inventors cannot quickly predict all possible responses, the machines will have the appearance of, if not intelligence, at least free will. Even the computer on the Viking Mars lander, which has a memory of only 18,000 words, is at this point of complexity: we do not in all cases know what the computer will do with a given command. If we knew, we would say it is “only” or “merely” a computer. When we do not know, we begin to wonder if it is truly intelligent.


The situation is very much like the commentary that has echoed over the centuries after a famous animal story told both by Plutarch and by Pliny: A dog, following the scent of its master, was observed to come to a triple fork in the road. It ran down the leftmost prong, sniffing; then stopped and returned to follow the middle prong for a short distance, again sniffing and then turning back. Finally, with no sniffing at all, it raced joyously down the right-hand prong of the forked road.

Montaigne, commenting on this story, argued that it showed clear canine syllogistic reasoning: My master has gone down one of these roads. It is not the left - hand road; it is not the middle road; therefore it must be the right - hand road. There is no need for me to corroborate this conclusion by smell - the conclusion follows by straightforward logic.

The possibility that reasoning at all like this might exist in the animals, although perhaps less clearly articulated, was troubling to many, and long before Montaigne, St. Thomas Aquinas attempted unsuccessfully to deal with the story. He cited it as a cautionary example of how the appearance of intelligence can exist where no intelligence is in fact present. Aquinas did not, however, offer a satisfactory alternative explanation of the dog’s behavior. In human split - brain patients, it is quite clear that fairly elaborate logical analysis can proceed surrounded by verbal incompetence.

We are at a similar point in the consideration of machine intelligence. Machines are just passing over an important threshold: the threshold at which, to some extent at least, they give an unbiased human being the impression of intelligence.

Because of a kind of human chauvinism or anthropocentrism, many humans are reluctant to admit this possibility. But I think it is inevitable. To me it is not in the least demeaning that consciousness and intelligence are the result of “mere” matter sufficiently complexly arranged; on the contrary, it is an exalting tribute to the subtlety of matter and the laws of Nature.

It by no means follows that computers will in the immediate future exhibit human creativity, subtlety, sensitivity or wisdom. A classic and probably apocryphal illustration is in the field of machine translation of human languages: a language - say, English - is input and the text is output in another language - say, Chinese. After the completion of an advanced translation program, so the story goes, a delegation which included a U.S. senator was proudly taken through a demonstration of the computer system.


The senator was asked to produce an English phrase for translation and promptly suggested, “Out of sight, out of mind.” The machine dutifully whirred and winked and generated a piece of paper on which were printed a few Chinese characters. But the senator could not read Chinese. So, to complete the test, the program was run in reverse, the Chinese characters input and an English phrase output. The visitors crowded around the new piece of paper, which to their initial puzzlement read: “Invisible idiot.”


Existing programs are only marginally competent even on matters of this not very high degree of subtlety. It would be folly to entrust major decisions to computers at our present level of development - not because the computers are not intelligent to a degree, but because, in the case of most complex problems, they will not have been given all relevant information. The reliance on computers in determining American policy and military actions during the Vietnam war is an excellent example of the flagrant misuse of these machines.


But in reasonably restricted contexts the human use of artificial intelligence seems to be one of the two practicable major advances in human intelligence available in the near future. (The other is enrichment of the preschool and school learning environments of children.)

Those who have not grown up with computers generally find them more frightening than those who have. The legendary manic computer biller who will not take no - or even yes - for an answer, and who can be satisfied only by receiving a check for zero dollars and zero cents is not to be considered representative of the entire tribe; it is a feeble - minded computer to begin with, and its mistakes are those of its human programmers.


The growing use in North America of integrated circuits and small computers for aircraft safety, teaching machines, cardiac pacemakers, electronic games, smoke - actuated fire alarms and automated factories, to name only a few uses, has helped greatly to reduce the sense of strangeness with which so novel an invention is usually invested. There are some 200,000 digital computers in the world today; in another decade, there are likely to be tens of millions. In another generation, I think that computers will be treated as a perfectly natural - or at least commonplace - aspect of our lives.

Consider, for example, the development of small, pocket computers. I have in my laboratory a desk - sized computer purchased with a research grant in the late 1960s for $4,900. I also have another product of the same manufacturer, a computer that fits into the palm of my hand, which was purchased in 1975. The new computer does everything that the old computer did, including programming capability and several addressable memories. But it cost $145, and is getting cheaper at a breathtaking rate.


That represents quite a spectacular advance, both in miniaturization and in cost reduction, in a period of six or seven years. In fact, the present limit on the size of hand - held computers is the requirement that the buttons be large enough for our somewhat gross and clumsy human fingers to press. Otherwise, such computers could easily be built no larger than my fingernail. Indeed, ENIAC, the first large electronic digital computer, constructed in 1946, contained 18,000 vacuum tubes and occupied a large room. The same computational ability resides today in a silicon chip microcomputer the size of the smallest joint of my little finger.

The speed of transmission of information in the circuitry of such computers is the velocity of light. Human neural transmission is one million times slower. That in nonarithmetic operations the small and slow human brain can still do so much better than the large and fast electronic computer is an impressive tribute to how cleverly the brain is packaged and programmed  - features brought about, of course, by natural selection. Those who possessed poorly programmed brains eventually did not live long enough to reproduce.

Computer graphics have now reached a state of sophistication that permits important and novel kinds of learning experiences in arts and sciences, and in both cerebral hemispheres. There are individuals, many of them analytically extremely gifted, who are impoverished in their abilities to perceive and imagine spatial relations, particularly three - dimensional geometry. We now have computer programs that can gradually build up complex geometrical forms before our eyes and rotate them on a television screen connected to the computer.

At Cornell University, such a system has been designed by Donald Greenberg of the School of Architecture. With this system it is possible to draw a set of regularly spaced lines which the computer interprets as contour intervals. Then, by touching our light pen to any of a number of possible instructions on the screen, we command the construction of elaborate three - dimensional images which can be made larger or smaller, stretched in a given direction, rotated, joined to other objects or have designated parts excised. (See figures on pp. 226 - 227.)


This is an extraordinary tool for improving our ability to visualize three - dimensional forms - a skill extremely useful in graphic arts, in science and in technology. It also represents an excellent example of cooperation between the two cerebral hemispheres: the computer, which is a supreme construction of the left hemisphere, teaches us pattern recognition, which is a characteristic function of the right hemisphere.

There are other computer programs that exhibit two - and three - dimensional projections of four - dimensional objects. As the four - dimensional objects turn, or our perspective changes, not only do we see new parts of the four - dimensional objects; we also seem to see the synthesis and destruction of entire geometrical subunits. The effect is eerie and instructive and helps to make four - dimensional geometry much less mysterious; we are not nearly so baffled as I imagine a mythical two - dimensional creature would be on encountering the typical projection (two squares with the corners connected) of a three - dimensional cube on a flat surface.


The classical artistic problem of perspective - the projection of three - dimensional objects onto two - dimensional canvases - is enormously clarified by computer graphics; the computer is obviously also a major tool in the quite practical problem of picturing an architect’s design of a building, made in two dimensions, from all vantage points in three dimensions.

Computer graphics are now being extended into the area of play. There is a popular game, sometimes called Pong, which simulates on a television screen a perfectly elastic ball bouncing between two surfaces. Each player is given a dial that permits him to intercept the ball with a movable “racket.” Points are scored if the motion of the ball is not intercepted by the racket. The game is very interesting. There is a clear learning experience involved which depends exclusively on Newton’s second law for linear motion. As a result of Pong, the player can gain a deep intuitive understanding of the simplest Newtonian physics - a better understanding even than that provided by billiards, where the collisions are far from perfectly elastic and where the spinning of the pool balls interposes more complicated physics.

This sort of information gathering is precisely what we call play. And the important function of play is thus revealed: it permits us to gain, without any particular future application in mind, a holistic understanding of the world, which is both a complement of and a preparation for later analytical activities. But computers permit play in environments otherwise totally inaccessible to the average student.

A still more interesting example is provided by the game Space War, whose development and delights have been chronicled by Stuart Brand. In Space War, each side controls one or more “space vehicles” which can fire missiles at the other. The motions of both the spacecraft and the missiles are governed by certain rules - for example, an inverse square gravitational field set up by a nearby “planet.” To destroy the spaceship of your opponent you must develop an understanding of Newtonian gravitation that is simultaneously intuitive and concrete. Those of us who do not frequently engage in interplanetary space flight do not readily evolve a right - hemisphere comprehension of Newtonian gravitation. Space War can fill that gap.

The two games, Pong and Space War, suggest a gradual elaboration of computer graphics so that we gain an experiential and intuitive understanding of the laws of physics. The laws of physics are almost always stated in analytical and algebraic - that is to say, left - hemisphere - terms; for example, Newton’s second law is written F = m a, and the inverse square law of gravitation as F = G M m/r2. These analytical representations are extremely useful, and it is certainly interesting that the universe is made in such a way that the motion of objects can be described by such relatively simple laws. But these laws are nothing more than abstractions from experience.


Fundamentally they are mnemonic devices. They permit us to remember in a simple way a great range of cases that would individually be much more difficult to remember - at least in the sense of memory as understood by the left hemisphere. Computer graphics gives the prospective physical or biological scientist a wide range of experience with the cases his laws of nature summarize; but its most important function may be to permit those who are not scientists to grasp in an intuitive but nevertheless deep manner what the laws of nature are about.

There are many non - graphical interactive computer programs which are extremely powerful teaching tools. The programs can be devised by first - rate teachers, and the student has, in a curious sense, a much more personal, one - to - one relationship with the teacher than in the usual classroom setting; he may also be as slow as he wishes without fear of embarrassment. Dartmouth College employs computer learning techniques in a very broad array of courses. For example, a student can gain a deep insight into the statistics of Mendelian genetics in an hour with the computer rather than spend a year crossing fruit flies in the laboratory. Another student can examine the statistical likelihood of becoming pregnant were she to use various birth control methods. (This program has built into it a one - in - ten - billion chance of a woman’s becoming pregnant when strictly celibate, to allow for contingencies beyond present medical knowledge.)

The computer terminal is a commonplace on the Dartmouth campus. A very high proportion of Dartmouth undergraduates learn not only to use such programs but also to write their own. Interaction with computers is widely viewed as more like fun than like work, and many colleges and universities are in the process of imitating and extending Dartmouth’s practice. Dartmouth’s preeminence in this innovation is related to the fact that its president, John G. Kemeny, is a distinguished computer scientist and the inventor of a very simple computer language called BASIC.

The Lawrence Hall of Science is a kind of museum connected with the University of California at Berkeley. In its basement is a rather modest room filled with about a dozen inexpensive computer terminals, each hooked up to a time - sharing mini-computer system located elsewhere in the building. Reservations for access to these terminals are sold for a modest fee, and they may be made up to one hour in advance. The clientele is predominantly youngsters, and the youngest are surely less than ten years old. A very simple interactive program available there is the game Hangman. To play Hangman you type on a fairly ordinary typewriter keyboard the computer code “XEQ - $HANG.” The computer then types out:


If you type “YES”, the machine replies:

Let us say you type the response: “E”. The computer then types:

If you guess wrong, the computer then types out an engaging simulacrum (within the limitations of the characters available to it) of a human head. And in the usual manner of the game there is a race between the gradually emerging word and the gradually emerging form of a human being about to be hanged. In two games of Hangman I recently witnessed, the correct answers were “VARIABLE” and “THOUGHT”. If you win the game the program - true to its mustache - twirling villainy - types out a string of non - letter characters from the top row of the typewriter keyboard (used in comic books to indicate curses) and then prints:


Other programs are more polite. For example, “XEQ - $KING” yields:


Hammurabi then presents you with relevant statistics on the number of acres owned by the city, how many bushels per acre were harvested last year, how many were destroyed by rats, how many are now in storage, what the present population is, how many people died of starvation last year, and how many migrated to the city. He begs to inform you of the current exchange rate of land for food and queries how many acres you wish to buy. If you ask for too much, the program prints:

Hammurabi turns out to be an extremely patient and polite Grand Vizier. As the years flicker by, you gain a powerful impression that it may be very difficult, at least in certain market economies, to increase both the population and landholdings of a state while avoiding poverty and starvation.

Among the many other programs available is one called Grand Prix Racing which permits you to choose from among a range of opponents, running from a Model T Ford to a 1973 Ferrari. If your speed or acceleration are too low at appropriate places on the track, you lose; if too high, you crash. Since distances, velocities and accelerations must be given explicitly, there is no way to play this game without learning some physics. The array of possible courses of computer interactive learning is limited only by the ingenuity of the programmers, and that is a well that runs very deep.

Since our society is so profoundly influenced by science and technology, which the bulk of our citizens understand poorly or not at all, the widespread availability in both schools and homes of inexpensive interactive computer facilities could just possibly play an important role in the continuance of our civilization.

The only objection I have ever heard to the widespread use of pocket calculators and small computers is that, if introduced to children too early, they preempt the learning of arithmetic, trigonometry and other mathematical tasks that the machine is able to perform faster and more accurately than the student. This debate has occurred before.

In Plato’s Phaedrus - the same Socratic dialogue I referred to earlier for its metaphor of chariot, charioteer and two horses - there is a lovely myth about the god Thoth, the Egyptian equivalent of Prometheus. In the tongue of ancient Egypt, the phrase that designates written language means literally “The Speech of the Gods.” Thoth is discussing his invention * of writing with Thamus (also called Ammon), a god - king who rebukes him in these words:

This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without its reality.

* According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the Egyptians claimed to have taught the alphabet to the Phoenicians, “who, controlling the seas, introduced it to Greece and were credited with inventing what they had really borrowed.” According to legend, the alphabet arrived in Greece with Cadmus, Prince of Tyre, seeking his sister, Europa, who had been stolen away to the island of Crete by Zeus, king of the gods, temporarily disguised as a bull. To protect Europa from those who would steal her back to Phoenicia, Zeus ordered a bronze robot made which, with clanking steps, patrolled Crete and turned back or sank all approaching foreign vessels. Cadmus, however, was elsewhere - ^unsuccessfully seeking his sister in Greece when a dragon devoured all his men; whereupon he slew the dragon and, in response to instructions from the goddess Athena, sowed the dragon’s teeth in the furrows of a plowed field. Each tooth became a warrior; and Cadmus and his men together founded Thebes, the first civilized Greek city, bearing the same name as one of the two capital cities of ancient Egypt. It is curious to find in the same legendary account the invention of writing, the founding of Greek civilization, the first known reference to artificial intelligence, and the continuing warfare between humans and dragons.

I am sure there is some truth to Thamus’ complaint. In our modern world, illiterates have a different sense of direction, a different sense of self - reliance, and a different sense of reality. But before the invention of writing, human knowledge was restricted to what one person or a small group could remember. Occasionally, as with the Vedas and the two great epic poems of Homer, a substantial body of information could be preserved. But there were, so far as we know, few Homers. After the invention of writing, it was possible to collect, integrate and utilize the accumulated wisdom of all times and peoples; humans were no longer restricted to what they and their immediate acquaintances could remember. Literacy gives us access to the greatest and most influential minds in history:

Socrates, say, or Newton have had audiences vastly larger than the total number of people either met in his whole lifetime. The repeated rendering of an oral tradition over many generations inevitably leads to errors in transmission and the gradual loss of the original content, a degradation of information that occurs far more slowly with the successive reprinting of written accounts.

Books are readily stored. We can read them at our own pace without disturbing others. We can go back to the hard parts, or
delight once again in the particularly enjoyable parts. They are mass - produced at relatively low cost. And reading itself is an amazing activity: You glance at a thin, flat object made from a tree, as you are doing at this moment, and the voice of the author begins to speak inside your head. (Hello!) The improvement in human knowledge and survival potential following the invention of writing was immense. (There was also an improvement in self - reliance: It is possible to learn at least the rudiments of an art or a science from a book and not be dependent on the lucky accident that there is a nearby master craftsman to whom we may apprentice ourselves.)

When all is said and done, the invention of writing must be reckoned not only as a brilliant innovation but as a surpassing good for humanity. And assuming that we survive long enough to use their inventions wisely, I believe the same will be said of the modern Thoths and Prometheuses who are today devising computers and programs at the edge of machine intelligence. The next major structural development in human intelligence is likely to be a partnership between intelligent humans and intelligent machines.


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