Date: Tue, 08 Jul 2008 13:36:36 +0100 From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU> Subject: 22.108 a frustrated becoming? To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 108. Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/humanist.html www.princeton.edu/humanist/ Submit to: humanist-AT-princeton.edu Date: Tue, 08 Jul 2008 13:29:00 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk> Subject: a frustrated becoming? In the Times Literary Supplement for 28 October 1983, in a review of a book by Geoff Simons (then Chief Editor of the National Computing Centre, Manchester), Are Computers Alive? Evolution and New Life Forms (Harvester, 1982), H. C. Longuet-Higgins gives due attention to the authors' quasi-religious evangelism, e.g. >Are computers alive? Yes! And today they truly >represent an emerging family of living species >in the world -- *that* is the startling argument >of this landmark book. . . How will we relate to >living machines? *We need to find the answer >soon*.... Machines are evolving limbs, senses, >brains, cognitive faculties, emotion, free will, >and the capacity for reproduction. A machine >capable of self-reproduction, of sensing the >changing world and of taking appropriate >adaptive action -- *must surely be regarded as alive*." [authorial italics] The studied ignorance of current fact and violent leap of faith required to believe in such a pronouncement are especially in these quieter times easier to dismiss as evidence of self-delusion if not madness, but let us not do that. Let's put these and other such ravings on hold for now. In sober moments, Longuet-Higgins notes, Simons does manifest the "enhanced appreciation of nature's own information technology [that] is one of the first signs of recovery from computer mania. Indeed", the reviewer goes on to note, "it could be argued that IT's most enduring contribution to our culture will have been the way in which it has forced the psychologist to look for computational accounts of the way our own minds and senses work." (I object to the use of "computational" here as a projection from the machine onto human cognition and perception, but never mind that for now.) Longuet-Higgins cites the example of automatic speech recognition. As a result of attempts to build systems to do this, >we find that existing knowledge is quite >inadequate for the purpose, suggesting that we >have been failing to ask the most important >questions -- those having to do with the >computations which the human auditory system >must carry out in order to unscramble an audible >signal into a sequence of English words -- much >as the code-breakers of Blechley Park during the >war used computers for decoding enemy >messages.... In fact, the more one discovers >about the acoustic intractibility of real >speech, the more respect one acquires for the >effortless ability of human beings to understand >it. It is by no means safe to assume that it is >only a matter of time before man-made systems >put our own mental and perceptual faculties to >shame.... it was such a claim, made nearly twenty >years ago, that led to the most humiliating >failure yet associated with the enterprise of artificial intelligence. The reference is, of course, to the great machine translation project on which the whistle was blown by the Automatic Language Processing Advisory Committee (ALPAC) report, "Language and Machines: Computers in Translation and Linguistics" (1966). As Yorick Wilkes has said, it had been obvious for some time that the model of language on which work had proceeded was simple-minded and that a much more sophisticated one was required. It's significant that ALPAC recommended further funding be put into linguistics research rather than into the building of translation= systems. Longuet-Higgins thus gives us a recognizable, quite comforting argument, and one that should be familiar to everyone by now: the main point of computing cultural artefacts, such as speech or written text, is to isolate what cannot be computed, revealing to us our own ignorance of something quite specific, and so pushing us to know more and better. Fine. But what about the evangelical rant of Manchester's National Computing Centre's Chief Editor? What do we make of that? If we look at what is being done with computing in the humanities today, 25 years later, we find, apart from construction of scholarly resources of many different kinds, (a) analytic investigation of artefacts, such as literary texts by means of computational stylistic techniques, simple concording, textual markup etc.; and (b) synthetic reconstructions blurring into VR constructive imaginings of possible worlds. The former is achieved by keeping one's distance and respecting difference between computing and whatever the reality is taken to be -- i.e. Longuet-Higgins' argument. The second, however, comes about when one forgets about the difference and, as it were, looks with or from within the computational environment to what it makes possible to render. (This, I suspect, is very well known to game-players.) Could it be that Simons' anthropomorphic projections and related visions of the time, such Arthur C. Clarke's HAL, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, had something to do with the batch-orientated form which computing then took? Could it be that a frustrated desire to identify was responsible? Comments? Yours, WM Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005