14.0707 automata

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Fri Mar 02 2001 - 04:43:44 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 707.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Randall Pierce <rpierce@jsucc.jsu.edu> (39)
             Subject: Automata, robots and "thinking machines"

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (28)
             Subject: bionic chip

             Date: Fri, 02 Mar 2001 09:13:03 +0000
             From: Randall Pierce <rpierce@jsucc.jsu.edu>
             Subject: Automata, robots and "thinking machines"

    In light of the vast amounts of material that are being made available
    by members of the Humanist List, it is interesting that someone brought
    up the subject of "thinking machines.". As a long-time observer of
    Science Fiction,I am aware that writers of "fantastic fiction" have
    written about "sentient" machines as long as there has been history. I
    think that the vast amounts of information being made available to
    cybernetic circuitry brings up certain "philosophical" questions, first
    among which is "What is sentience?" Just how much "input" can
    complicated circuitry accomodate before certain critical associations
    are made? This is really not as fantastic as it sounds. I would
    recommend to the readers of this list two science fiction novels by
    reputable scientists: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", by Robert A.
    Heinlein, and "When Harlie Was One," by David Gerrold. Each raises
    interesting philosophical and ethical questions. Dr. Isaac Asimov wrote
    extensively on robots(kudos to Karl Capek), both as a writer of fiction
    and as an editor of popular scientific works. I know that the movie
    "Short Circuit" is largely slapstick comedy, but think of its
    implications, especially the mention of the "Turing Test" by the
    roboticist. These are just some thoughts some might appreciate. I hope
    they will be well received. Randall

             Date: Fri, 02 Mar 2001 09:37:22 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: bionic chip

    In light of the discussion on automata, Humanists may be interested in the
    research of Boris Rubinsky and others at Berkeley "to mate human cells with
    circuitry in a 'bionic chip' that could play a key role in medicine and
    genetic engineering", <http://www.grg.org/UCBcellsChip.htm>. Apparently the
    problem they have solved is the electrical communication between artificial
    microcircuitry and biological cells. The research was originally published
    as "Micro-Electroporation: Improving the Efficiency and Understanding of
    Electrical Permeabilization of Cells", Biomedical Microdevices 2.2 (March
    1999): 145-50, <http://www.wkap.nl/oasis.htm/251412>.

    Some of you will be familiar with the microphotograph of a brain cell
    growing on a Motorola chip, done by John Stevens and Judy Trogadis in
    Toronto more than 15 years ago; see
    <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/year1/concepts/brain-cell-on-a-chip.jpg>. At the
    time this was a visual metaphor and remains powerfully so. Now, it seems,
    the two juxtaposed entities can talk to each other -- to stretch a point
    slightly. But, again, what I find fascinating is the continuity with the
    dream of automata that goes back to Homer in the written record. Along the
    way, thanks to particular instantiations such as the Golem, it (if we may
    speak of a singular dream) is shown to be messily hard to distinguish from
    making entities like us in the usual way. Padre Busa's humorous remark,
    that he thinks God regards computers as a grandfather his grandchildren, is
    very, very old wisdom.


    Dr Willard McCarty / Senior Lecturer /
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities / King's College London /
    Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784 / ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/

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