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Humanist Archives: Dec. 18, 2018, 6:15 a.m. Humanist 32.274 - in your genes/DNA

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 274.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2018-12-17 15:30:31+00:00
        From: dcorcutt@ncsu.edu
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.271: in your genes/DNA

Henry, et al,

      It strikes me that neither the motto ("Computers do what you tell
them to do, not what you want them to do") nor speaking of a singular
"programmer" describes the state of human-computer interaction today (if
they ever truly did). Contemporary computing applications consist of
various layers and pieces of hardware and software designed by a cacophony
of programmers/users; the end user's voice is only the latest among those
"telling" the computer what to do, and typically some of those prior voices
have even already sought to tell the application to pointedly NOT do what
the end user says, but to rather respond in ways that hope to address the
users' intentions, steer users in ways that align with a prior voice's
economic interests, etc.

      To your original point, Willard, I wonder if we're seeing the first
part of a shift from a sheer cognitive processing model of the human brain
as we recognize the coming power of our arising genetic knowledge. Cultures
always conceive of the human brain in terms of the ascendant technology of
the time; perhaps the computer model is starting to give way to the next?


Darby Orcutt
Assistant Head, Collections & Research Strategy, NCSU Libraries
Affiliate Faculty, Center for Innovative Management Studies, Poole College
of Management, North Carolina State University
Affiliate Faculty, Genetic Engineering & Society Center, North Carolina
State University
Box 7111
Raleigh, NC  27695-7111
919/ 513-0364

On Mon, Dec 17, 2018 at 1:05 AM Humanist  wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 271.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

>         Date: 2018-12-16 20:35:35+00:00
>         From: Henry Schaffer 
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.269: in your genes/DNA?
> On Sat, Dec 15, 2018 at 3:02 AM Humanist  wrote:
> >                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 269.
> >             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
> >                        www.dhhumanist.org
> >                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >         Date: 2018-12-15 07:28:15+00:00
> >         From: Willard McCarty 
> >         Subject: in your genes/DNA?
> >
> > A current habit of thought I find curious is the attribution of
> > biological determinism in a language not that far from programming. This
> > is the notion that we are determined by a core program in our
> > genetic material, or alternatively that a society or social entity is
> > similarly predetermined. There is, the thought goes, nothing to be done
> > about a behaviour or characteristic because it is already unalterably
> > programmed.
> I haven't come across this type of thinking - is this something you've
> encountered recently? As someone with a backgorund in genetics, it is
> clear that some things are hardwired. E.g., eye and skin color are built
> into the genes/DNA. It is equally clear that some things aren't
> hardwired - such as which language is spoken.
> > One curiosity is that the whole point of a programmable device
> > is that what it does (within the constraints imposed by its architecture)
> > isn't hardwired but can be programmed and reprogrammed indefinitely. It's
> > like a complex board-game, such as chess or go, within whose limits is
> > freedom.
> >
>   Ahh - the language learned/spoken is governed by the brain - a (somewhat)
> programmable device. :-)
> >
> > What gets to me is the passiveness this expresses -- the passiveness with
> > which many (including our students) take to computing, that is, as users
> > rather than makers. Here, it seems to me, is a very strong argument for
> > teaching programming as a humanistic project. Students flood in nowadays
> > to university programmes in 'digital humanities', and in some cases at
> > least are taught only what I would consider the epiphenomena of
> computing,
> > the effects predetermined by apps and applications. Meanwhile they are
> > being unwittingly shaped, as we all are to some degree, by the cognitive
> > structure of the stored-program computer. How can they understand this,
> > and so be properly equipped, if they have not played the game rather than
> > merely be played by it?
> >
> It's the easy way out whether one is just looking for enjoyment/fun, or
> developing servants. It's more fun to play a digital game than to learn
> how to construct one. It's more profitable to teach someone how to operate
> a spreadsheet program/app, than to teach them how to construct one.
> I'll go further - people won't understand the limitations of
> programs/apps, and recognize errors in them without an understanding of
> how those programs/apps are constructed. When I teach either in STEM or DH
> areas, my motto displayed for the students is, "Computers do what you tell
> them to do, not what you want them to do." (There are longer more complete
> versions of that motto.)
> >
> > The tools are here, as one very wise computational linguist used to say.
> > Should we not be developing in our students and colleagues a critical
> > awareness of how these tools shape how we think and reason?
> >
> That is done in many fields, I believe it should also be done in DH.
> --henry schaffer
> >
> > Comments?
> >
> > Yours,
> > WM
> > --
> > Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
> > Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> > London;
> > Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary
> > Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist
> > (www.dhhumanist.org)

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