Can machines think?

It burned through the sixties, seventies and even eighties, until the answer was, Of course. It was replaced with a different, less emotionally fraught question: How can we make them think smarter/better/deeper?

The central issue is the social, not scientific, definition of "thinking". A generation of Western intellectuals who took their identity mainly from their intelligence has grown too old to ask the question with any conviction, and anyway, machines are all around them thinking up a storm. Machines don't yet think like Einstein, but then neither do most people, and we don't question their humanity on that account.

PAMELA McCORDUCK is the author or coauthor of seven books, among themMachines Who Think, and coauthor with Nancy Ramsey of The Futures Of Women: Scenarios for the 21st Century.