4.0014 Conceptualizing Computers (84)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 9 May 90 17:08:56 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0014. Wednesday, 9 May 1990.

(1) Date: Tue, 8 May 90 23:01:42 EDT (14 lines)
From: psc90!jdg@dartvax.dartmouth.edu (Dr. Joel Goldfield)
Subject: "Finally, some colleagues who admit "it.""

(2) Date: Wed, 09 May 90 08:42:24 EDT (23 lines)
From: brad inwood <INWOOD@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: computer personalities

(3) Date: 9 May 90 01:14:00 EDT (38 lines)
From: O.B. Hardison, Jr. <ohar@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: RE: 4.0002 Thinking about computers (166)

(4) Date: Tue, 8 May 90 14:10:31 PDT (9 lines)
From: cbf@faulhaber.Berkeley.EDU (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Computers: Superstition, Reification, & Stress

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 8 May 90 23:01:42 EDT
From: psc90!jdg@dartvax.dartmouth.edu (Dr. Joel Goldfield)
Subject: "Finally, some colleagues who admit "it.""

Thanks, HUMANIST colleagues Lavagnino and Ball, for lending some support
to the anti-anthropomorphic current regarding computer "gender" (ugh).

Somehow, the whole golem discussion seems to fit creepily into this look
at computer use in the life of humanists.

Joel D. Goldfield
Plymouth State College (NH)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------31----
Date: Wed, 09 May 90 08:42:24 EDT
From: brad inwood <INWOOD@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: computer personalities

Our (Classics) department has always had some named and therefore
personified computers. Our original PC was dubbed Clytaemnestra by our
sometime depart- mental secretary, who was rather resistant to
computerization. When the first AT came along, it immediately became
Orestes, named by the academics who used him for research purposes, and
so named in part as an assertion of the positive value of computers -- a
gentle barb in the politics of technological advancement. But then came
the peripateia, and Orestes was transferred to the secretaries for
administrative work -- and in fact to the same technophobic secretary!
So poor Orestes suffered a sex-change and deification in one swoop and
became Nemesis. The AST which replaced the old AT for research purposes
was dubbed Pylades -- a logical substitution for his pal Orestes, now in
limbo I assume.

Meanwhile we hired new secretaries, with no trace of resentment for
machines. Their computers remain unnamed to this day. And so, by the
way, does my own. I wonder if there is anything typical in this story.
Do we name what we fear and wonder at? Has anyone else used computer
nomenclature to mediate the stress of new technology? And do those of
us who most comfortably live with machines least need to name them?
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------45----
Date: 9 May 90 01:14:00 EDT
From: O.B. Hardison <ohar@guvax.georgetown.edu>
Subject: RE: 4.0002 Thinking about computers (166)

There are two subjects here (1) the sex of computers and (2) the
metaphorics of computers - especially metaphorics relating computers to
human moltives/bahavior/attributes. Take the second first. One very
intresting phenomenon is the fact that scientific literature is saturated
with the metaphorics of computers. Many metaphors are found in Pamela
McCorduck's excellent MACHINES WHO THINK (1979). The relevance of
metaphors for thinking about computers is recognized powerfully in Alan
Turing's seminal paper in MIND (1950 "Computing Machinery and
Intelligence," which asserts, "I believe that by the end of the
twentieth century, the use of words and general educated opinion will be
altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking
without fear of being contradicted." I have traced a good many of the
metaphors of machine life, and related them to the ngpoing debate, nn
the chapter "Deus ex Machina" in DISAPPEARING THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT:
p. 284ff. Toward the end of this chapter I review some of the still more
outrageous (but fascinating and revealing) metaphors being used
in the scientific community in relation to machine evolution and even to
the interchangeability of machine and carbon-based intelligence.
I think in the light of this body of metaphorica that human-like robots
of science fiction - and also the human-like robots increasingly
rolling off the assembly lines - can be understood in one sense at least

Now, as to item (1) - the sex of computers - I think it is less a matter
of concers which sex is choses than the fact that A sex is chosen. To
choose a sex is to use a metaphor attributing life (intelligent?) to a
machine. There may be good reasons for that beyond the impulse to
understand what is coming into being in human terms, but I'll stop here.
--O. B. Hardison, Jr.

(4) --------------------------------------------------------------22----
Date: Tue, 8 May 90 14:10:31 PDT
From: cbf%faulhaber.Berkeley.EDU@jade.berkeley.edu (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Re: 4.0010 Computers: Superstition, Reification, & Stress (79)

I was sitting with my programmer last night, and his comment
at one frustrating moment was "What's that sucker doing now."

Charles Faulhaber
UC Berkeley