Computing and its consequences

HPSS*S689 -- Blumberg

Notes: Tuesday, January 15



"We now ask the question, "What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?" Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, "Can machines think?" .....The new problem has the advantage of drawing a fairly sharp line between the physical and the intellectual capacities of a man."


"The idea behind digital computers may be explained by saying that these machines are intended to carry out any operations which could be done by a human computer. The human computer is supposed to be following fixed rules; he has no authority to deviate from them in any detail. We may suppose that these rules are supplied in a book, which is altered whenever he is put on to a new job."

from A.M. Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (1950)


"The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages. The system must be designed to operate for each possible selection, not just the one which will actually be chosen since this is unknown at the time of design."

from C. E. Shannon, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" (1948)


"We begin with two results in mathematical logic, the Church-Turing thesis (or equivalently, the Church's thesis) and Turing's theorem. For our purposes, the Church-Turing thesis states that for any algorithm there is some Turing machine that can implement that algorithm. Turing's thesis says that there is a Universal Turing Machine which can simulate any Turing Machine. Now if we put these two together we have the result that a Universal Turing Machine can implement any algorithm whatever."

from John R. Searle, "Is the Brain a Digital Computer?" (1990)


"The nature of knowledge cannot survive unchanged within this context of general transformation. It can fit into the new channels, and become operational, only if learning is translated into quantities of information. We can predict that anything in the constituted body of knowledge that is not translatable in this way will be abandoned and that the direction of new research will be dictated by the possibility of its eventual results being translatable into computer language. The “producers” and users of knowledge must now, and will have to, possess the means of translating into these languages whatever they want to invent or learn. Research on translating machines is already well advanced. Along with the hegemony of computers comes a certain logic, and therefore a certain set of prescriptions determining which statements are accepted as 'knowledge' statements."

from Jean-Fancois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, "Chapter One:: Knowledge in Computerized Societies" (1979)


"Where Neo ultimately overcomes his foes through extreme willpower, the Little Tramp does it through pantomime."

Clio Calman, "Computing and Its Consequences: Modern Times and The Matrix" (2008)



1. Turing 1936 (continued) and the Church-Turing Thesis


2. Shannon 1948, and the calculation of "information value".


3.. Bush 1945: Memex and connections between information, the mind, and control.


4. Licklider (1960), Clynes & Kline (1960), Engelbart (1962), and the birth of the cyborg.



"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory." Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think" (1945)

"Perhaps I may clarify the historical background of the present situation if I say that the first industrial revolution, the revolution of the 'dark satanic mills', was the devaluation of the human arm by the competition of machinery. There is no rate of pay at which a United State pick-and-shovel laborer can live which is low enough to compete with the work of a steam shovel as an excavator. The modern industrial revolution is similarly bound to devalue the human brain at least in its simpler and more routine decisions. Of course, just as the skilled carpenter, the skilled mechanic, the skilled dressmaker have in some degree survived the first industrial revolution, so the skilled scientist and the skilled administrator may survive the second. However, taking the second revolution as accomplished, the average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that is worth anyone's money to buy.
  The answer, of course, is to have a society based on human values other than buying or selling."

from Norbert Wiener,Cybernetics (1947), "Introduction", p. 37-38

4. Wiener's Cybernetics: From Computing Machine to Artifical Nervous System.

5. Beniger's Control Revolution and the alternative to thinking the "information society" primarily a consequence of computing.

"Inseperable from the concept of control are the twin activities of information processing and reciprocal communication, complementary factors in any form of control. Information processing is essential to all purposive activity, which is by definition goal directed and must therefore involve the continual comparison of current states to future goals, a basic problem of information processing. So integral to control is this comparison of inputs to stored programs that the word control itself derives from the medieval Latin verb contrarotulare, to compare something 'against the rolls,' the cylinders of paper that served as official records in ancient times." (Beniger 1986, p. 8)

6. N. Katherine Hayles' "posthuman" condition.

In the first chapter of How We Became Posthuman (1999), Hayles writes that the posthuman perspective is characterized by:

7. Comments on your comments on Modern Times and The Matrix.

For Next Week:: Finish the books by Chorost and Ullman and be prepared to discuss your approach to your essay (due on Friday).