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Humanist Archives: April 16, 2020, 8:42 a.m. Humanist 33.769 - a way through

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 769.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2020-04-15 14:29:30+00:00
        From: Henry Schaffer 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.764: pubs: A Way Through

On Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 3:17 AM Humanist  wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 764.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                    Hosted by King's Digital Lab
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>         Date: 2020-04-15 06:41:41+00:00
>         From: Sheldon Richmond 
>         Subject: A Way Through
> Sheldon Richmond, A Way Through the Global Techno-Scientific Culture
> (Cambridge Scholars, 2020)
> Computers are supposed to be smart,

  What??? I've done a lot of work in the ICT arena, and I've yet to hear
anyone in technology say that computers are smart.

  To go down this path, it's necessary to define "smart". A Google search
for the word brings up two definitions:

having or showing a quick-witted intelligence.
"if he was that smart he would never have been tricked"

I don't think this applies - but

2. (of a device) programmed so as to be capable of some independent action.
"hi-tech smart weapons"

  Ahh - while I sometimes use the meaning - I'll claim that "of a device"
refers to a piece of equipment that has already been in use and has its use
and capabilities extended by incorporating programming.

  IMHO, this doesn't include computers. They never have had any use other
than to be programmed and to follow the program/instructions. Those
instructions were written by people. So perhaps the question should start
"People are supposed to be smart" (Even for AI, the instructions were
generated by software which was written by people.)

> yet they frustrate both ordinary
> users and computer technologists. Why are people frustrated by smart
> machines?

  Maybe because the people who wrote the instructions weren't smart enough
to make the machines easy to use?

  My car radio is quite good. One day it stopped showing the time on its
display, and only showed the station. Why did this change happen? Maybe
when fumbling to change the station while not looking at all of the buttons
I pushed something unintended? Whatever the cause, I wanted to change it
back - and after diving into the User Manual (at least half of which was
for other models of the radio), I couldn't find out how to do it. So I
started experimenting - pushing buttons, going into the Menu and selecting
this and than and then pushing buttons and/or turning the knob. Aha - the
display changed back - not exactly the way it used to be, but good enough
for me to be satisfied with how it worked.

  Sorry for the long story - but my point is that we don't say "Car radios
are supposed to be smart, yet ..."

  So, while I think that Sheldon is making a very good point about the
discordance between machine designs (whether they be computer/program or
car radio types of machines) and the way people and cultures work - that
phrase, "Computers are supposed to be smart" does raise my hackles.


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