I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #19 - Brian Christian

I just finished reading The Most Human Human, by Brian Christian, one of those books that are at the same time thought-provoking and entertaining.

It is about Christian’s preparation for and winning participation to the 2009 Loebner Prize.

At its core, the purpose of the Loebner Prize is to check whether and to what extent computer programs are able to fool a panel of judges into thinking that they are communicating with human beings. It is inspired by the well know Turing Test.

But Hugh Loebner also finances a simultaneous competition, in which AI programs are replaced by human beings. It is not uncommon for judges to think that one or more human contestants are computers. Christian’s book is interesting because, to prepare himself for the prize, he examines in depth what it means to be human.

I strongly recommend the book. It is therefore with sadness that I have to report a couple mistakes. They don’t compromise the validity of the book in any way, and one can only wonder why they were made. But they are definitely there.

Towards the bottom of page 209 (in the hardcover version), Christian writes: Latin speakers needed a term to describe the relationship they had with their dining partners, the folks they broke bread with: the custom of simply calling such people one’s “with-breads,” or (in Latin) “com panis,” caught on, a phrasing that eventually became our word “companion.” First of all, the Latin equivalent to the preposition “with” is “cum”, not “com”. Secondly, “cum” requires the noun that follows to be placed in the Ablative case. Now, “panis” is indeed the Latin word for “bread”, but in the Nominative and Genitive cases, not in Ablative. The correct Latin expression is “cum pane” (“with bread”) or “cum panibus” (“with breads”).

Still on page 209, there is another mistake. Christian states: as misfortunate events were believed in the sixteenth century to have astrological roots, speakers of Old Italian took to calling such an event a “bad-star,” or “dis-astro”: hence “disaster.” What Christian says is correct in content. Indeed, when somebody systematically appears to be lucky/unlucky, he/she is said in Italian to be “born under a good/bad star” (“nato/nata sotto una buona/cattiva stella”). But Christian refers to Old Italian, while the term “disastrum” already existed in Latin. OK. I agree: not a big deal. But why should one say something when it is not correct?

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:

No comments:

Post a Comment