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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

THE RIGHT WAY TO DO WRONG: A Unique Selection of Writings by History's Greatest Escape Artist

Monday, January 28, 2013

FREEDOM NATIONAL: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

Sunday, January 27, 2013



Saturday, January 26, 2013


Friday, January 25, 2013

THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION: How 1965 Transformed America

HOW TO CREATE A MIND: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed

Ray Kurzweil
ISBN 978-0670025299
336 pages

Reviewed by Simson Garfinkel

In January 1976, Ray Kurzweil introduced the Kurzweil Reading Machine, a breakthrough system that could photograph a book (with Kurzweil's flat-bed scanner), recognize the text (with Kurzweil's omnifont character recognition technology) and speak the text (with Kurzweil's speech synthesis software). Fifteen years later he struck gold again, this time a program that could turn natural speech into text. Today a descendant of that technology is Apple's voice-recognizing Siri. Clearly Kurzweil knows inventions: In 1999 President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology.

These days, Kurzweil is better known as a futurist. Starting with his 1990 book, "The Age of Intelligent Machines," he has delivered books and lectures explaining artificial intelligence, predicting the development of computers that are smarter than humans, and dispensing diet and health advice so that his followers can live long enough to have their brains mapped and uploaded to some Great Computer in the Cloud. To quote the title of his 2005 book, our goal - realizable in 25 to 50 years - should be to "Live Long Enough to Live Forever."

Realizing these predictions requires that science actually deliver a computer that can think. That's the premise that Kurzweil sets out to prove in his latest effort, "How to Create a Mind." He argues that the brain's fundamental building block for intelligence has been discovered by neuroscientists, that the algorithm for intelligence has both been observed in nature and independently invented by artificial intelligence researchers, and that the steady progress of Moore's Law will produce a computer fast enough to simulate an entire human brain by 2020. That wish is ultimately an appeal for a continuation of technological progress - humanity should create an intelligent machine unless something unforeseen stops us from doing so.

Kurzweil is at his best when he presents the reader with his "thought experiments on thinking." For example, he asks you, the reader, to recite the alphabet. Next he suggests that you recite the alphabet backward. Most people can easily do the first but have a hard time with the second. This proves, he writes, that memories are stored as sequences of patterns that can be accessed only in the order in which they are remembered. Kurzweil presents similar experiments that he claims establish that knowledge is stored in the brain as a series of hierarchical patterns, and that much of what we call "thinking" is really just pattern-matching and pattern-synthesizing.

Of course, these simple thought experiments don't really prove anything, but they are entertaining. The next two chapters present Kurzweil's misnamed "Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind (PRTM)" and delve into the anatomy of the human brain. PRTM is not a theory because it can't be tested. For example, Kurzweil argues that neuroplacticity, the ability of one part of the brain to take on the functions of another that's damaged, implies that different parts of the brain must be using "essentially the same algorithm" to perform their computations. He then cites some recent neurological research to argue that this algorithm must be running on some kind of neural "module," which he says consists of about 100 neurons, and that there are roughly 300 million of these modules in each of our brains. That's too big a conceptual jump for many of Kurzweil's detractors, who say that the brain is likely to have many more secrets and algorithms than the ones that Kurzweil describes. Over the next three decades we'll see who is right.

Later chapters discuss scientists who are working to simulate a brain, briefly retell the history of computer science, and present critiques of artificial intelligence from some of the field's greatest detractors. It's an eclectic collection, perhaps better suited to a dinner party or a TED talk than a scholarly effort; it's also a bit disorganized. The arguments on the nature of consciousness are interesting, although Kurzweil has presented many of them before. His recipe for creating a mind, then, is to build something that can learn and then give it stuff to learn. That, after all, is what parents do when they conceive and raise children. But this is not "the secret of human thought" that Kurzweil promises in the book's subtitle.

Sadly, Kurzweil's in-book autobiography, repeated mention of his company's products, and snipes at his detractors come off as blatant self-promotion. This book would have benefited from a strong edit - perhaps in a few years there will be a program that Kurzweil trusts to critique his work. As it stands, much of the warmth and humanitarianism that are so evident in his talks are lost in this written volume.

Simson Garfinkel writes and researches information technology; he is the author of 14 books, including "Architects of the Information Society: Thirty-Five Years of the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT."

Copyright 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

A writer on the trail of presidents' assassins

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A CAUSE GREATER THAN SELF: The Journey of Captain Michael J. Daly, World War II Medal of Honor Recipient

Monday, January 7, 2013

Weekend picks for book lovers

'The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century' by Margaret Talbot

New Voices: Lisa O'Donnell, from Scotland via L.A.

Lisa O'Donnell, author of 'Death of Bees.' (Photo: Vanessa Stump)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2 new books explore Charles Dickens' messy private life

'Charles Dickens in Love' by Robert Garnett

Friday, January 4, 2013

Book Buzz: Bill O'Reilly's secret, 'The Giver' on big screen

Bill O'Reilly found success this year with his books 'Killing Kennedy' and 'Killing Lincoln.' (Photo: Kathy Willens, AP)

Here's a look at what's buzzing in the book world today:

New and noteworthy: Ready to relax this holiday week? USA TODAY books editor Jocelyn McClurg picks three new reads for every taste, including The Intercept, a thriller by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, and Empress of Fashion, a biography of legendary editor Diana Vreeland.

Weekend reviews: Elysa Gardner writes that Philip Sington's new novel, The Valley of Unknowing, is "as accessible as it is intricate," giving it 3 stars out of four. And Bob Minzesheimer writes that A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II is "a Christmas story worth retelling" (3 stars).

What to read: Jocelyn McClurg appears on Salon to discuss USA TODAY's 10 books we loved reading and reveals the book that "seems to best encapsulate America in 2012."

O'Reilly's factor: Bill O'Reilly wrote two best-selling books this year, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, now No. 3 and No. 8 respectively on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. The New York Times profiles the Fox News host, exploring his literary success and why his secret is to "write for the ear, not for the eye." Watch a USA TODAY video with O'Reilly and read more about his research for Killing Kennedy from Bob Minzesheimer.

'The Giver' on screen: Before The Hunger Games popularized the young adult dystopian genre, Lois Lowry found fame with her 1994 Newbery Medal-winning novel The Giver. GalleyCat reports Lowry has confirmed that a film is "finally on the road," and plans are for Jeff Bridges to star.

Pulitzer-worthy advice:Middlesex author Jeffrey Eugenides quotes his good friend Christopher Hitchens when addressing the 2012 Whiting Award winners: "A serious person should try to write posthumously," not conforming to the fashion of the time. An adaptation of his speech about achieving success as a writer is posted at The New Yorker.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Buzz: End-of-the-world reads, crowd-sourced romances

Tom Cruise in a scene from 'Jack Reacher,' based on Lee Child's character. Cruise plays a former military cop investigating a sniper case. (Photo: Karen Ballard AP)

Here's a look at what's buzzing in the book world today:

Mayan madess: Read like today's the end of the world with Flavorpill's list of required reading.

E-Sparks: Nicholas Sparks is jumping into the world of enhanced e-books with the movie tie-in edition of Safe Haven, which merges the original book with extras from the movie starring Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel.

'Tis the season: Did you catch USA TODAY's Craig Wilson's five fun facts about Christmas trees yesterday? Keep the holiday spirit going by flipping through GalleyCat's gallery of book Christmas trees submitted by readers.

Bookish trends: The New York Times reports that the e-reader market is shrinking faster than predicted because of the dominance of tablets, while NPR tackles the story of self-publishing, a once-scorned practice that has gained significant legitimacy this past year. And for holiday book sales, Publishers Weekly explains that while there have been gains since Thanksgiving, the upward trend is slower than in 2011.

Swoon-worthy: Macmillan Children's has announced the launch of Swoon Reads, a crowd-sourced romance imprint targeted to teens, launching in 2014. The imprint "will be a community, one whose members are included in every step of the publishing process, from the initial discovery of the manuscript to providing edit notes, designing covers, and marketing," the release explains.

Child's play: Quite a few fans are unimpressed by Tom Cruise's portrayal of Lee Child's Jack Reacher in the movie adaptation.

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TV's Dick Wolf tweaks approach for novel 'Intercept'

Dick Wolf, the creator of the Emmy-winning 'Law & Order' franchise is out with his first novel, 'Intercept.' (Photo: William Morrow)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

E.L. James is USA TODAY's author of the year

E.L. James, author of the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' phenomena, is USA TODAY's author of the year. (Photo: Michael Lionstar)

10 books we loved in 2012

10 best books of 2012

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Buzz: Dickens' Christmas, 'Godfather' settlement

Marlon Brando stars as Don Vito Corleone in 'The Godfather.' Mario Puzo's estate has settled with Paramount over copyright infringement. (Photo: Getty Images)

Here's a look at what's buzzing in the book world today:

Dickens' Christmas: The day after Christmas, read reviews of two Dickensian books, Charles Dickens in Love by Robert T. Garnett and Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, by USA TODAY's Bob Minzesheimer.

Amazing reviews: Amazon is cracking down on suspicious user reviews of books after several cases of authors writing positive reviews of their own books or manipulating the reviews through social media campaigns.

'Godfather' settles: Paramount Pictures and the estate of Godfather creator Mario Puzo have reached a settlement in the case that argued the movie studio infringed copyright.

Teen read: Young blogger Tavi Gevinson writes about The Virgin Suicides and teen angst for NPR's book club, PG-13.

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