Book Review: Robot Brains

Review
Robot Brains: Circuits and Systems for Conscious Machines

By Pentty Haikonen
Wiley. September 2007.
ISBN: 978-0-470-06204-3

The first thing that I would like to say about this book is that this is one of the few cases in which the exiting title of the book is not just a catchy slogan that has little to do with the real content. I must admit that when I read for the first time such an amazing title I never thought about really finding inside real circuit designs for conscious machines. However, after having read the entire book (I had had a look to some chapters earlier but never had the time to go through it from the first page to the last) there is no way I can deny that this book is really providing a design of a possible conscious machine. Of course, this claim has to be put in context. In one hand, the term conscious machine does not necessarily refer to human-like machines; on the other hand, there would not be enough space in one book to describe in deep details such a complex machine. So what we have here is a rather complete description of the Haikonen cognitive architecture for conscious machines, alongside with a proposal for its implementation using uncomplicated circuits.

Another point that I inferred from the title of the book is that you really need advanced knowledge of electronics and analog and digital circuit design in order to understand author’s proposals. Again, I was wrong, as anyone with basic notions of electronics can understand the circuits and schemes described in the book. It is amazing how some cognitive processes that are presumed quite complex to imitate in artificial machinery are addressed with fairly simple designs.

In conclusion, I think this book is a must for anyone interested in the branch of Machine Consciousness or Strong AI in general. The Haikonen cognitive architecture provides many fascinating ideas for currently challenging issues like artificial emotions, imagination, and language understanding and production. There is only one thing I miss about this book: a real implementation of the proposed architecture in a physical robot. But I guess that would require a big budget.

Anil K Seth

Anil K Seth

Senior Lecturer, EPSRC Leadership Fellow
Department of Informatics,
University of Sussex,  UK

Seth is senior lecturer and EPSRC leadership fellow at the University of Sussex. He is interested the following research lines: Theoretical Neuroscience, Consciousness, Cognitive Science, Artificial Life, Neurorobotics, and also he is active in the particular field of Machine Consciousness research.

Visit http://www.anilseth.com/ for additional information.

The soul is in the brain

(El alma está en el cerebro – Spanish Edition)
Written by Eduardo Punset
Spanish
Publisher: Aguilar, 2006, Madrid.
344 pages.
ISBN: 84-03-09737-9

Rather than a book on Consciousness, this is a popular science book about neuroscience. The phenomenon of consciousness is not really discussed in any deep detail, but other related aspects like emotions and other human cognitive abilities are described from the point of view of neuroscience. This is definitively a book for anyone interested in the field but not expecting any exhaustive explanation. In fact, I would recommend this book to the reader without hardly any background on neuroscience, as a smooth introduction into the science of the brain. However, this would likely be too popular science and too boring for anyone else with a background on neuroscience and looking for a treaty on any of the topics that seems to be suggested by the book title.

The book is based on a number of interviews with renowned international scientists, like Antonio Damasio and Oliver Sacks, so it is also helpful in discovering who are some of the most famous and leading scientists in some areas of neuroscience and what their main ideas are (again, without in depth details).