4.0032 Thinking about and talking to computers (78)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 11 May 90 16:35:59 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0032. Friday, 11 May 1990.

(1) Date: Thu, 10 May 90 18:00:54 -0400 (61 lines)
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Gender discussion for computers

(2) Date: Thu, 10 May 90 19:59:21 EST (17 lines)
From: Boyd Davis <FEN00BHD@UNCCVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0014 Conceptualizing Computers (84)

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 10 May 90 18:00:54 -0400
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Gender discussion for computers

I find the discussion very strange indeed. The main reason is that
I never thought the linguistic concept of gender was intended to
be a clue to anything these days---and that the use of gender terms
in reference to inanimate things is not itself the mechanism whereby
linguistics decides to attribute gender to those entities. That is,
just because some people refer to their pet automobile as a female
doesn't eventually force the language to attribute gender to
automobiles. It isn't a poll.

Thus, what I see is a lot of very unscientific heresay based on
individual experiences which, even if it WERE representative of general
usage in the world at large STILL wouldn't be indicative of what
the language as a whole would do. It is a confusion of personal
psychology with linguistics.

For example. In electrical engineering, gender is definitely used to
refer to connectors and plugs. There are male and female connectors.
However, I am unaware of anyone using gender pronouns to refer to
these. Thus, people don't say things like ``The male RS232 connector
on my PC cable has HIS pins bent and I can't plug HIM into the female
connector in the PC because the bent pins won't go into HER sockets
correctly.'' It is bizarre enough to make people look at you
strangely, like you suddenly had decided to start making smart-aleck
remarks or deliberately engage in sexism to annoy others.


Re: computers `thinking'. Computers don't `think'. We invented the
word to refer to the action of human beings and it is self-reserved.
However, the issue is whether computers can perform the same tasks
we perform by thinking, but using other methods.

I believe this reduces to asking whether WE can perform tasks
solely through the subset of thinking processes we refer to as
reasoning or have to resort to additional methods.

I would claim that anything human beings can do by reasoning can be
duplicated by a computer. (The reverse, incidentally, isn't true
--at least not if the time taken to perform the task is part of
the requirement. For example, apparently we can't control equipment
such as space shuttles or jet fighters without computers. Our nervous
system can't function fast enough to maintain the homeostatic state
of these devices at the speeds needed.)

--- You're a better machine than I, Space Shuttle.

If you want to get into really hot water, consider the issue of
what qualifies a device for humane treatment as a sentient being.
That is, how and when would we decide that a machine was deserving
of the same considerations we afford human beings, such as unborn
children. Is our world view such that no other form of sentience
can ever have the same rights we have?

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------24----
Date: Thu, 10 May 90 19:59:21 EST
From: Boyd Davis <FEN00BHD@UNCCVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0014 Conceptualizing Computers (84)

Brad Inwood asks if we name what we fear or wonder at. In fall, 1988,
while introducing my undergraduates in a linguistics class to terminals
and BitNet,I asked them to log on to our balky IBM mainframe in pairs,
to speak their reactions and comments, to write down what their partner
said and did, and to bring their notes back to class after the mid-class
break time. They reported that they addressed the terminal almost
continually after the initial glitch; utterances fell into two
categories, Baby Talk, usually with false and honeyed endearments, and
Curses, usually scatalogical epithets. Baby-talkers usually coupled
their naming with exhortations to perform better ("Come on, honey"), and
Cursers usually employed rhetorical questions (You Bleep, why won't you
Do X"). Most agreed with the student who commented that each mode of
address was really a form of denigration and reflected the frustration
and anxiety they felt, and had chosen to direct at the terminal.