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Hardcover | $13.75 Short | £10.50 | ISBN: 9780262201278 | 126 pp. | 6 x 9 in | February 2000
Paperback | $5.75 Short | £4.99 | ISBN: 9780262700870 | 126 pp. | 6 x 9 in | January 2002
eBook | $17.00 Short | ISBN: 9780262325189 | 126 pp. | January 2002

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Truth from Trash

How Learning Makes Sense


This study of learning in autonomous agents offers a bracing intellectual adventure. Chris Thornton makes the compelling claim that learning is not a passive discovery operation but an active process involving creativity on the part of the learner. Although theorists of machine learning tell us that all learning methods contribute some form of bias and thus involve a degree of creativity, Thornton carries the idea much further. He describes an incremental process, recursive relational learning, in which the results of one learning step serve as the basis for the next. Very high-level recodings are then substantially the creative artifacts of the learner's own processing. Lower-level recodings are more "objective" in that their properties are more severely constrained by the source data. Thornton sees consciousness as a process at the outer fringe of relational learning, just prior to the onset of creativity. According to this view, we cannot assume consciousness to be an exclusively human phenomenon, but rather the expected feature of any cognitive mechanism able to engage in extended flights of relational learning.

Thornton presents key background material in an entertaining manner, using extensive mental imagery and a minimum of mathematics. Anecdotes and dialogue add to the text's informality.


Truth from Trash is representational A.I shaken but not stirred. Thorton incisively exposes the troubling gap between simple behavioral systems and systems capable of ongoing abstraction, creativity and 'disembodied reason.' Then, maginificently, he shows how to incrementally cross the divide without reinventing the standard apparatus of the symbolic tradition. Machine learning for the new millenium, with a twinkle in its eye and a sting in its tail.”
Andy Clark, Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Philosophy/Neuroscience/Psychology program, Washington University in St. Louis
“Joe Thorton has written tge best book on environmental policy I've read in the past decade. The case he makes is authoritative, clear, and compelling. It deserves center stage.”
David W. Oerr, Chair, Environmental Studies Program, Oberlin College
“Joseph Thornton has produced a ground-breaking treatise in environmental health. Authoritatively docummented and accesible to the non-specialist, Pandora's Poison is a broad interdisciplinary analysis of both the science and the public policy of chemical polllution and argues for bold, innovative approaches to pollution prevention.”
Philip Landrigan MD, Profesor and Chairman, Department of Preventive and Community Medicine Center for Children's Health and the Environment, Mount Sinai School of Medicine