In choosing to dissect artificial intelligence, Hubert Dreyfus has undertaken an inquiry of great public importance.
This branch of science is seen by its practitioners as the basis for much more powerful versions of the computer technology that already pervades our society.
As anyone can see who reads the daily press, many people are torn between hopes and fears aroused by digital computers, which they find mostly incomprehensible and whose import therefore they cannot judge.
But, as science lays claim to public support, so the public has a claim on critical analyses of science.
Dreyfus sees agonizingly slow progress in all fundamental work on artificial intelligence.
This he interprets as a sign of impenetrable barriers, rather than as the normal price for overcoming enormous technical and conceptual difficulties on the way to inevitable success.
He sees artificial intelligence as limited by its assumption that the world is explicable in terms of elementary atomistic concepts, in a tradition traceable back to the Greeks.
This insight challenges not only contemporary science and technology but also some of the foundations of Western philosophy.
He puts in question the basic role that rules play in accepted ideas of what constitutes a satisfactory scientific explanation.
Thereby he strikes at far more than the ability in principle of digital computers bound as they are to follow rules to exhibit intelligence of a kind which, according to his analysis, cannot be explained according to Kantian rules.