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Mathematical Intelligence - Junaid Mubeen ***

This is a strange one. It's sort of about AI and making it better, and it's sort of about how wonderful mathematics is (and mathematicians are) and why real maths not like the boring stuff we do at school. Whether or not you think this might appeal I would advise skipping the painfully long introduction (36 pages, but it feels like more).

When it comes to the main text, Junaid Mubeen splits down the way humans do things and artificial intelligence doesn't into seven headings: estimation, representations, reasoning, imagination, questioning, temperament and collaboration. The first of these is by far the best, stressing the way that humans don't actually work numerically like computers beyond relatively small numbers. Of course we can do the sums for bigger numbers, but that's where it becomes an effort, where we more naturally deal with approximation.

In each section, Mubeen is looking at what the limitations are for AI, how humans do it and how we can learn from what mathematicians do. This last part was for me by far the least interesting (and that's as someone with a Masters in an applied maths subject) - I can't see it appealing much except to mathematicians or ex-mathematicians like Mubeen.

The bits on AI and its limitations were quite interesting, though there are now a lot of books on this subject - and since reading Elena Esposito's Artificial Communication, I think many such books frame the problem incorrectly. There is some of that here - Mubeen seems to assume it is possible to move from current AI's approach to actual artificial intelligence (and to think that self-driving cars are close to being feasible in the real world, as opposed to California) - but having said that, the seven areas are quite insightful and help underline how far AI is from actual intelligence.

An interesting book in principle, then, but I didn't enjoy it because the mathematical focus didn't work well and was a distraction from the more interesting parts.

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Review by Brian Clegg - See all of Brian's online articles or subscribe to a weekly digest for free here

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