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Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: On Intelligence
Publisher: Times Books
Authors: Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
Important and relevant...but be a critical reader

Jeff Hawkins is an entrepreneur and computer expert, responsible for the invention of the popular device known as the PalmPilot, as well as the Treo smart phone and other gadgets. He is also interested in the human brain and how it functions. So it should be no surprise that he has chosen to bring together his two main interests -- computers and the human brain -- in a book entitled "On Intelligence" which presents a new theory about how the brain works and how we can finally build "intelligent" machines.

Of course, discussions about computers, artificial intelligence (AI), and the possibility of building intelligent machines have been plentiful for many decades. The English mathematician Alan Turing, an early developer and innovator in the field of digital computers, best known for the Turing machine and the Turing test (both concerned with the relation between computation and mind), proposed a criterion in 1950 which would determine whether or not a machine can "think." A machine can think, he said, if its replies to questions are indistinguishable from those of a human being. With the declaration that "the human brain is just another computer," the field of artificial intelligence was launched.

Turing's declaration, however, became controversial and was criticized by both scientists and philosophers, especially those working in the areas of learning psychology and philosophy of mind. Turing's position, now known as "strong" AI, was especially criticized by John Searle, a philosopher and cognitive scientist who created a thought experiment, called the "Chinese Room" argument, which demonstrated that, while the computing device could indeed reply to questions in such a way that made it indistinguishable from a human being, it had no "understanding" regarding its replies, no "meaning" was attached to its replies, and it was not really behaving in the same way that a human being does. Turing's test was shown to be faulty and misleading.

In this book, Hawkins goes beyond Turing's ideas and Searle's discussion of the matter, and argues that intelligent machines can and probably will be built, but that a basic understanding of how the brain actually operates is fundamental to the development of such machines. The brain is not a computer, the author claims, but a memory system which makes predictions based on memories resulting from the interaction of events and their relationships. "Intelligence" is defined by Hawkins as "the capacity of the brain to predict the future by analogy to the past." And the first necessity on the way to building an intelligent machine is to understand how the human brain actually works, a subject to which he devotes most of his book. The reader will learn a lot about the evolution of the animate brain, including a lengthy discussion of neural networks and how the neocortex works. The author provides credible information and a compelling framework with which to understand brain activity.

Be that as it may, "On Intelligence" is not, despite its arresting title, a treatise on "human" intelligence. First, and I am not one who usually quibbles over definitions, his definition of "intelligence" is too limiting and his book should really be titled "On Animal Intelligence" or "On Machine Intelligence" or, maybe better, "On Computer Intelligence." I would argue that when it comes to "human" intelligence there is a lot more involved than merely "the capacity of the brain to predict the future by analogy to the past." In a "strict" sense of the term, human intelligence is an activity of the "intellect," that cognitive faculty of the mind as it operates at higher abstract and conceptual levels, and thus refers to universal ideas, judgments, and reasoning. These "intellectual" activities, which we philosophers in the classical realistic tradition call "intellection," are virtually ignored by Hawkins. Yet these are the essential activities which make us members of the class of human beings.

Second, Hawkins concludes his discussion of consciousness and creativity (Chapter 7) with an interesting paragraph. He states:

"By now, I hope I have convinced you that mind is just a label of what the brain does. It isn't a separate thing that manipulates or coexists with the cells in the brain. Neurons are just cells. There is no mystical force that makes individual nerve cells or collections of nerve cells behave in ways that differ from what they would normally do."

No, I am sorry he has not convinced me that "mind" is merely a "label" for what the brain does. Actually, he never defines the term "mind," so it's hard to know what he is really saying. The traditional definition of "mind" as "the conscious knowing subject or the conscious knowing part of the subject" seems to me to be pretty clear and has nothing to do with a "mystical force." It seems obvious to me that "I" am not my "brain." My brain is a physical organ which permits me to have an "I" (ego) in the first place, but I would argue that my "I" is not a label for what my brain does.

Third, if I am to infer that he equates "mind" and/or "intellect" with "brain," then his basic thesis regarding human intelligence rests on plain old-fashioned metaphysical materialism and, probably, old-school psychological behaviorism. I would argue that both these philosophical positions have pretty much been discounted today, as these "theories" have been unable to explain and account for the vast array of human activities, both objective and subjective, which all members of the human species experience in ordinary life.

Nevertheless, even with its shortcomings, I found the book an interesting read and would recommend it to all those interested in the subject of "intelligent" machines and the future of the digital computer. I just want to warn those readers who may take Hawkins uncritically that there are some philosophical implications here that are important and which the author does not directly address. It is well-written and most readers with any "human" intelligence should find it an easy-to-understand discussion of a relevant topic.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Sams Teach Yourself Perl in 21 Days (2nd Edition)
Publisher: Sams
Authors: Laura Lemay, Richard Colburn, Robert Kiesling
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Not only for newbies...

I used to work with earlier versions of Perl some years ago. Then I paused, and a few weeks ago I was forced to write a script for database over www. First I thought I'll do it in C, but then I remembered about perl's fantastic pattern matching function. But alas! I was already forgotten half of that sweet ugly language. And what I needed now, was a book. A good perl book.
Then I saw Sams Teach Yourself Perl in 21 days...
What the hell, i thought and bought it. At home I opened it, started to read... and finished on 'Day 4'! It's completely amazing, with little more than a week I'd recovered all my knowledge, and gained a little bit more even out of perl :)
Allright, there were unusually lot of typos, but that was the only minus on the book...

Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: Building Secure Software: How to Avoid Security Problems the Right Way
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional
Authors: John Viega, Gary McGraw
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
An Indictment for Applications Development

Many transformations begin with an indictment. Two notable examples are Martin Luther's "95 Theses" criticizing the Catholic Church, which began the Reformation, and Ralph Nader's denunciation of the auto industry with "Unsafe at Any Speed." An indictment of the software industry and its indifference to writing secure software hasbeen published in "Building Secure Software: How to Avoid Security Problems the Right Way" by John Viega and Gary McGraw.
Twenty years into the client-server revolution, and a decade into the Internet revolution, it's a measure of inadequacy of secure coding that only now are the first books being written on how to secure software -- the very foundation of information systems.
Software developers who code without taking security into consideration are potentially as dangerous as a physician prescribing a drug without knowing its side effects. As a society, we should tolerate neither.
While security products such as firewalls, encryption devices, event monitoring and intrusion-detection systems are needed to secure networks; it must not be forgotten that behind every security problem is a common enemy -- insecurely written software.
Building secure software is not rocket science. Writing secure code doesn't mean turning every developer into a world-class cryptographer. It simply means training them in the fundamentals of how software works, including security. If corporate end users can betrained not to send inappropriate (sexist, racist, confidential, etc.) e-mail via corporate servers, then software developers can certainly be trained to write secure software programs.
The revolution needed in software development is to integrate security into software engineering. The current approach in software is to patch problems after they occur. In fact, 2003 saw the rise of many patch management companies; a sector that only came to be recently. Endless patching is a downward spiral that only serves to treat the symptoms, not the true problem, and only in a reactive manner. Had those same programmers been trained in writing secure code, much of the problems would have been obviated and billions of dollars saved in the interim.
It's all the rage to send development offshore in the name of saving money. If companies understood how much more money could be saved by building secure software from the get-go, rather than bolting security on as an afterthought; wouldn't they do the same?
It's frightening to think that in just a matter of years, everything but the food we eat will have an IP address attached to it. When the time comes that your family vacation commences with a flight on a pilot-less airplane, here's hoping the developers of the navigation and control systems knew the rudiments of writing secure software.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Managing Your Supply Chain Using Microsoft Navision
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Authors: Scott Hamilton, Scott Hamilton
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
An Indispensable Learning Tool

This book is indispensable for all Navision manufacturing consultants and sales people...I've bought copies for our clients and have told them that if they read this book thoroughly they too could become Navision manufacturing consultants.
For the prospective Navision buyer it will help them understand just how effective the product will be for their company. A few hours invested by salespeople in reading this book could increase their bookings significantly.
The case studies (never present in manuals) allow the concepts to come alive and stimulate us to understand how we can apply them to our own supply chain workplace. The concepts themselves are first placed in the book's framework and then explained in straightforward language free of sophomoric jargon.
It offers a holistic view of the interrelationship of manufacturing, E-commerce, relationship management, service management and accounting. Manufacturing is seen not as an island unto itself but as just one of the many determinants of the entire DNA structure of the supply chain. We understand that what happens even in one part of the process will reverberate throughout the entire structure.
Does a better job in explaining the Navision in several hundred pages than the lengthier manuals...Even manufacturing neophytes will come away with competency.