Mind vs. Machine

The most recent episodes of the quiz show “Jeopardy” pitted an IBM-designed computer, named Watson, against two of the show’s most famous winners: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Although Jennings made the game close at the end, Watson ended up winning–and winning big.

Port Townsend Writers’ Conference alumnus Brian Christian’s latest piece, “Mind vs. Machine“, appears in the most recent issue of The Atlantic, and explores such issues as the increased thinking, speaking, and reasoning power of computers; the victory of Deep Blue over chess expert Garry Kasparov; and the central question: what is it that makes us human?

The article is excerpted from Brian’s new book by the same name, which will be released from Doubleday in a few months.

Christian, who attended the conference as a student in 2007 and 2008, will be returning in 2011 as a resident. His writing appears in AGNI, Seneca Review, Gulf Coast, and Ninth Letter, among others, as well as in such scientific journals as Cognitive Science. He was named “The Most Human Human” at the 2009 Türing Test, described in his new book. Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Christian holds degrees in philosophy, computer science, and poetry from Brown University and the University of Washington. Check out a piece that appeared in AGNI here.

In addition, Christian will be teaching two afternoon workshops as part of his time here. Here are his class descriptions:

The Third Thing: Exercises in Register
Ezra Pound argued that the power of poetry comes from three sources: sound, image…and a third thing, which he had to invent a word for.  Arguably the most powerful driving force in 20th and 21st-century poetry is also the least explored—Pound called it “logopoeia”; we now call it register, or the reason why the words “pearlescent” and “dudes” don’t mix. Through close readings and our own experiments, we’ll have a look at the power and possibilities of register in 20th and 21st century poetry—including your own.

Exploding the Essay
Our school system literally mandates the structure that children must use to express their ideas—a shame, because the search for shape is one of the most important, and thrilling, steps in the writing process.  The best nonfiction since antiquity has employed a breathtakingly wide range of structures, and this can sometimes be as important as the content—indeed, sometimes it is the content.  We’ll look at these philosophers and writers—from the 19th century to the 21st—and explore the vast and wild possibilities of the essay form.