14.0192 machines, pride, pure research

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Tue Aug 22 2000 - 06:07:24 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 192.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com> (48)
             Subject: Re: 14.0180 machines, pride and pure research?

       [2] From: Mark Wolff <WolffM0@hartwick.edu> (118)
             Subject: academy vs. coporations

       [3] From: "Chris McMahon" <pharmakeus@hotmail.com> (29)
             Subject: Re: 14.0187 machines & pride, cyberspace

             Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000 06:55:25 +0100
             From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
             Subject: Re: 14.0180 machines, pride and pure research?

    At 08:32 AM 8/19/00 +0100, you wrote:
    >If research of the undirected kind (a.k.a. "pure") requires the cloudy
    >state of mind, then how does research in our area get done in the real
    >world, where funding is required and available largely from people who want
    >products guaranteed?

    Often, by accident. The products are guaranteed, but not delivered. Careers
    rise and fall, not entirely on the basis of guarantees made and fulfilled.
    Some products are guaranteed and even delivered, but do not serve:
    situations change: the new VP just doesn't care about his predecessor's
    hobby horse or white elephant. Some products serve, but in ways not
    anticipated. The only thing that doesn't change is that the developer who
    explicitly pitches "I don't know how this will be useful, but someone will
    find some way," never gets a shot.

    Yet some dreams, some requirements, never go away. Thomas Jefferson got the
    notion from France that interchangeable parts for firearms would be a good
    thing on a battlefield. He wasn't the only one, and the federal government
    funded these projects constantly and repeatedly, through one failure after
    another, each project saying "he got it wrong, but I can do it." Only after
    fifty years did they really have parts that were semi-reliably
    interchangeable (and then, just for one line of rifles); and they had to
    invent a completely new way of building and running assembly lines -- the
    "American System" (as it was called) -- in order to do it. The idea was
    just too good to die.

    Pure research? My guess is, the private sector has never been too keen on
    this. Sometimes, after a fortune has been made, a tycoon will reflect, and
    some pure research will be funded. (Mellon, Carnegie.) But usually the pure
    research happens on the sly, in other guises. Often the company that funded
    the pure research never gets to benefit, as when Xerox let the mouse escape
    from its PARC.

    So yes, it's pride that drives it. The researcher must appeal to the pride
    of the funder. No less in the private sector than anywhere.

    Only when research gets to be statistically predictable (X projects funded
    will yield Y results, though we don't know in advance which of the X they
    will be), as may be happening in the pharmaceutical industry, does it
    stabilize. If Y is greater than X, X will be funded; otherwise, not. But
    I'm not sure we want to be in that particular place, where methodologies
    themselves are necessarily concrete.


    Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com
    Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
    17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
    Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
    Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
        Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

             Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000 06:57:32 +0100
             From: Mark Wolff <WolffM0@hartwick.edu>
             Subject: academy vs. coporations

    Thanks for your posting, Chris. I agree that we probably agree, and
    that if anything we are quibbling over details. I also agree that we
    should make the academy more of a public sphere where new ways of doing
    things and seeing the world, especially through technology, break down
    the institutional and economic barriers that want to reduce capital to

    > I would like to ask you what sort of project you suggest for overcoming the
    > conquest of the academy by corporatism?

    It's not that I want to return to the good ol' days of the ivory tower
    where scholars mused over their books and left the practical concerns of
    life to lesser mortals. As if that ever happened. Instead, I would
    like to see humanities computing develop its own habitus within the
    academy. To foster this, humanities scholars must have the freedom to
    engage in "pure" research, research that does not have any end in sight
    except the discovery of new ideas and methods that *may* prove useful
    later on. This is not a new idea, and in fact it does not even belong
    exclusively to the academy. Many corporations have established
    facilities such as Bell Labs and Xerox Park where researchers have the
    "luxury" to "play" with new ideas. Corporations know that most research
    projects end up going nowhere, but every now and then there is a project
    that serves as the basis for the next revolutionary technology. I would
    say that all academics, whether they teach French or Computer Science,
    must have time to practice the excess of research, otherwise they become
    service professionals. Graduate students in the humanities spend a good
    chunk of time learning the ropes of academic research: they think up
    projects, look up materials and do some preliminary research, and decide
    (with the help of an advisor) whether a project is both feasible and
    worth doing. A lot of these projects are dead ends, but one often
    learns more from failures than from successes. The experience of
    failure is necessary to scholarship, something that may seem wasteful in
    a money-driven economy but fruitful if one considers the knowledge and
    wisdom gained through the experience. What holds true for scholars in
    other academic disciplines should hold true for humanities computing:
    one should have the freedom and motivation to do research without an
    imposed goal or timeframe (there is, of course, the publish-or-perish
    mandate, but the scholar is free to decide *what* to publish, even if
    the publication describes a research failure).

    Speaking from my own experience, I think humanities computing research
    is threatened, not because scholars aren't busy pursuing research, but
    because information technology is too profitable to be left in the hands
    of humanities scholars. There was a row about ten years ago over the
    obscurity of humanities computing research. I don't want to rehearse
    those debates again (ping Mark Olsen), but I think the struggle has
    shifted. Ten years ago there was no World Wide Web. Humanities
    computing scholarship (as well as a lot of more traditional research)
    was inconsequential within the wider public sphere. With the rise of
    Internet culture, however, anyone with a networked computer at home can
    take a break from shopping at Amazon.com and access a SGML-encoded
    version of Shelley's Frankenstein. Now *everybody* cares about document
    encoding and retrieval, whether they realize it or not. Humanities
    computing scholarship is no longer irrelevant to the wider public, but
    because there is so much interest in it now it risks losing whatever
    academic autonomy it had gained to demands for productivity. There are
    great opportunities for humanities computing as a service industry, and
    indeed many colleges and universities rely on humanities computing
    specialists to build their institutional web sites and distance learning
    programs. I myself managed to stay in graduate school because of the
    services I was able to provide my university. However, it is my
    impression that the idea of humanities computing research, which
    involves using time and resources to pursue ideas that may not produce
    anything other than greater knowledge and wisdom, is discouraged within
    many institutions, not only because of limited time and resources, but
    because within the public sphere we have jumped from information
    technology as a curiosity in the humanities to a piece of
    mission-critical infrastructure. Because institutions rely on
    information technology to do their business, they feel compelled to seek
    the most efficient and productive means to meet their needs. Hence the
    tendancy toward commercial software and data products that allow
    institutions to meet the demand for information without all the waste of
    research. We may find all kinds of jobs in supporting this technology,
    but we can't take responsibility for and leadership over technology we
    simply consume.

    One way we can promote research in humanities computing and maintain our
    autonomy is to embrace open source development. Many humanities
    computing projects already rely on software such as Linux, the Apache
    web server, MySQL, and Perl. These resources are freely available, not
    only in an economic sense (it costs nothing to download) but in a
    democratic sense: anyone can review the source code, modify it to suit
    their needs, and distribute it as they see fit (provided you do not
    attempt to restrict others' access to the original code). See
    http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html for one of Richard Stallman's
    manifestos. The open-source software community fosters practices of and
    dispositions toward intellectual labor that resemble in many ways those
    of the academy. Open source developers share code in a common effort to
    build better programs. Their motivation for research stems from their
    own intiative, and their compensation is the recognition of their
    peers. And the best thing about open source software is that it is
    usually as good as, if not better, than closed source software. If end
    users encounter problems with open source software, they can send
    questions or comments to developers who respond immediately.

    What I find compelling about the open source movement is that it
    promotes research without pressure from outside and it fosters a
    community of scholars who work together on their own accord. The
    objectives of the open source community come from within the community,
    not from a marketing division or an administrator. And it offers a
    model for scholarship that can blend traditional humanities research
    with information technology. The TEI has demonstrated that humanists
    can determine for themselves how texts should be prepared for
    computer-assisted analysis. What we need now is open source development
    of tools that give scholars control over how they use computers to
    analyze electronic media. This form of research does not require
    extensive resources: open source tools are freely available on the net,
    and researchers can work from anywhere since collaboration takes place
    in over the Internet. What is required is time, energy, and a
    willingness to learn technologies such as programming languages. You do
    not have to be a hardcore programmer: it's amazing what you can do with
    an Apache server and Perl. This kind of research may not be for
    everyone, but as a community of scholars we should encourage open source
    development if we want to decide for ourselves what tools and media we
    will use and how.


    Mark B. Wolff
    Modern and Classical Languages
    Center for Learning and Teaching with Technology
    Hartwick College
    Oneonta, NY  13820
    (607) 431-4615


    --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000 06:59:04 +0100 From: "Chris McMahon" <pharmakeus@hotmail.com> Subject: Re: 14.0187 machines & pride, cyberspace

    Dear Dr Lachance,

    Perhaps it would be best if it could stay that way -

    >There is not one diaster but many.

    No great global technodisaster (like Y2K was supposed to be?), but just many little "disasters". Chernobyl was a little local disaster? So was the Kursk? I don't mean to beat up on the Russians here. Anyway, modularity might be a good design feature if we intend to stave off global disasters (the globalization of capitalism is already making global disasters, by the way) but each module would have to be somehow heterogenous? It is the heterogeneity of the humanities man or woman that enables her or him to salvage the situation? Even though Y2K did not happen, it is an interesting model for a global disaster based on modular homogeneity. Now can IT be both global (reaping those benefits)and hetergeneous (preventing the disaster)? I'm wondering? On the model of globalized capital, I suspect not?

    > Just as a Turing machine's configuration can be interpreted as states >of being or as instructions, a story can be considered an apparatus >processing descriptions and questions, figures and sequences. > >and > > A story is at once product and apparatus of production. It is an >autopoetic structure. It will take a picture, a question, a description, >an imperative and transform either it, itself, or both. A story is a >machine that learns.

    So intrigued by these wonderful ideas, from where I sit in Australia, I visited your website [a while ago and far away (or only a click)] and found so much to cogitate upon.

    :) Chris ________________________________________________________________________ Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com

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