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In a step-by-step process, Minsky constructs a model of human intelligence which is built layer by layer from the interactions of simple parts called agents, which are themselves mindless. He describes the postulated interactions as constituting a "society of mind", hence the title.
The book, published in 1988, was the first comprehensive description of Minsky's society of mind theory, which he began developing in the early 1970s. It is composed of 270 self-contained essays which are divided into 30 general chapters. The book was also made into a CD-ROM version.
In the process of explaining the society of mind, Minsky introduces a wide range of ideas and concepts. Minsky develops theories about how processes such as language, memory, and learning work but he also covers concepts such as consciousness, the sense of self, and free will; Because of this many view The Society of Mind as a work of philosophy.
The book was not written to prove anything specific about AI or cognitive science, and does not reference physical brain structures. Instead it is a collection of ideas about how the mind and thinking work on the conceptual level.
Minsky first started developing the theory with Seymour Papert in the early 1970s. Minsky says that the biggest source of ideas about the theory came from his work in trying to create a machine that uses a robotic arm, a video camera, and a computer to build with children's blocks.
Nature of mind
A core tenet of Minsky's philosophy is that "minds are what brains do". The society of mind theory views the human mind and any other naturally evolved cognitive systems as a vast society of individually simple processes known as agents. These processes are the fundamental thinking entities from which minds are built, and together produce the many abilities we attribute to minds. The great power in viewing a mind as a society of agents, as opposed to as the consequence of some basic principle or some simple formal system, is that different agents can be based on different types of processes with different purposes, ways of representing knowledge, and methods for producing results.
This idea is perhaps best summarized by the following quote:
What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle. – Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind, p. 308
- Cognitive psychology
- Cognitive science
- Distributed cognition
- DUAL (cognitive architecture)
- Situated cognition
- Theory of mind
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