Defining how the mind works and how intelligence is built out of smaller components, The Society of Mind posits the idea that the mind is a society made up of small processes called “agents,” which work together to produce action, thought, commonsense reasoning, emotion, and memory. Marvin Minsky uses examples of computer programs and artificial intelligence to demonstrate how intelligence or mind can be created out of small, repetitive steps.
The form of the book reflects this idea of mental societies; it is made up of 270 page-length essays which present a single idea or theory or demonstration that is connected in different ways to those of the other essays. The form does not impose any hierarchical order on the material, as there are numerous cross-references incorporated in the text, the glossary, and the index. The form also reflects the way the mind itself cross-connects its agents. The book makes extensive use of diagrams and drawings to demonstrate its concepts. Literary quotations are also incorporated in the text to provide examples of cultural cross-references. While the book does not use a considerable amount of technical psychological terminology, Minsky has created many new terms to describe mental processes. Definitions are given in the text and in a glossary. There is also an appendix which discusses the relationship of the mind to the brain.
To introduce the idea of agents, Minsky describes a computer program, “Builder,” which he and Seymour Papert developed in the late 1960’s. It combined a mechanical hand, a television eye, and a computer into a robot which could build a tower out of children’s blocks. The program had to use agents to “see” the block “grasp” it, “place” it, and “release” it. In addition, “Builder” had to be programmed or taught such concepts as not using a block already in the tower and how to begin and end the tower. Each of these agents, individually, is simple and not an activity which would normally be considered intelligence. “Builder” itself merely activates each separate agent. To understand the system as a whole, one must know how each part works, how it interacts with those to which it is connected, and how they combine to accomplish a given function. Intelligence or mind operates the same way. An additional complexity is the fact that the mind can perform a virtually unlimited number of procedures. Therefore, there needs to be an agent which decides which procedure will take precedence. A variety of agents such as noncompromise, hierarchies, and heterarchies can...
(The entire section is 1054 words.)