“It’s obvious to anybody that the mind does much more than solve problems,” Yale computer scientist David Gelernter says in his Big Think interview. “But in a more fundamental way, it is obvious to anybody—maybe obvious to anybody who is not in AI—that if I am working at my computer and I get tired and I lean back and look out the window and just watch the passing scene, I’m still thinking; my mind hasn’t shut down.” Blending analytical thinking with dreaming and feeling is central to Gelernter’s prescriptions for artificial intelligence—just as blending intellect and passion has long been a mark of Gelernter’s own work.
The legendary computer programmer and author of such books as “The Muse in the Machine” spends most of his time these days painting; he describes himself as a professional “image thinker.” Despite some trepidation about what technology will bring in the years ahead, he finds the expanding graphical capabilities of our computing devices “tremendously exciting,” and looks forward to a future practically tailor-made “for showing pictures, for seeing pictures, for seeing things.”
Gelernter also discusses his latest book, “Judaism: A Way of Being,” and why he believes the Jewish tradition to be the most important intellectual development in Western history. The survivor of a nearly fatal attack by the Unabomber in 1993, he notes the special perspective Jewish people have on terrorism—it “has always,” he says, “been a weapon of choice of Jew-haters and Israel-haters”—but declares bluntly that he is “not a victim,” and stresses his refusal to let the incident deter him in any way from his intellectual (and emotional) pursuits.