More than Machines

Steven Shapin

  • The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick by Jessica Riskin
    Chicago, 544 pp, £30.00, March 2016, ISBN 978 0 226 30292 8

When you consider the difference between a human being and a machine, you start with some idea about what it is to be a human being and what it is to be a machine. Some people now celebrate the technological advances that can make it hard to tell the difference; others view that difficulty with anxiety. They are concerned when machines do what we want to do; and they have species-self-doubt when machines do things that once defined what it was to be uniquely human. The worst worry is that the machines will refuse our orders, that they may acquire a will of their own, and want free agency.

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[*] Paul Taylor wrote about AlphaGo and machine learning in the LRB of 11 August.

[†] Chicago, 294 pp., £20.50, March 2015, 978 0 226 03416 4.