[Humanist] 22.323 hardware and interpretation
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Nov 13 07:24:45 CET 2008
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 323.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2008 06:22:46 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.312 hardware and interpretation
In-Reply-To: <20081111063509.2DBE024C07 at woodward.joyent.us>
I take James' point, that the computer systems with which I interact are
remote from me. But what I was getting at is the experience of the
more or less ordinary person who interacts with computing these days. In
the mid 1960s, when I got started, no one interacted with the machines
except by going to a computing centre and negotiating across an input
desk (if you were a user) or in a noisy machine room, with great,
hulking cabinets etc. I did both. Then, as the years went on, I passed
through each major stage in the development of computing, through
terminal access in a computing centre, to a terminal in my study hooked
up via an acoustic coupler modem etc etc.
Now I sit here, in front of this lovely, quiet machine, in my study
miles from the first remote machine, which is to me no more than a
ghostly abstraction. My relationship to my machine is so close that if
it goes wonky, I feel wonky. Different utterly.
I still assert, contra James' message, that so much of our rhetoric
about computing has not caught up with the reality. Cultural
assimilation of technology takes a long time. What I suggest is that we
examine how we talk, e.g. as if Mr Turing's test, which posits a machine on
the other side of a barrier, is the right way to think about artificial
Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 312.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>  From: James Cummings <James.Cummings at oucs.ox.ac.uk> (73)
>  From: "maurizio lana" <m.lana at katamail.com> (25)
> Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.310 hardware and interpretation?
> Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2008 08:54:09 +0000
> From: James Cummings <James.Cummings at oucs.ox.ac.uk>
> Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.310 hardware and interpretation?
> In-Reply-To: <20081110062718.55EA2249DE at woodward.joyent.us>
> Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>> Let me try out on everyone here an historical hypothesis and invite all
>> comers to pick at it for weaknesses.
> I think that there is an assumption being made which isn't necessarily
> incorrect, but that reduces the complexity of our relationship with
> computers. The conception of remoteness and inaccessibility still
> persist with certain types of computing, even though we all now use
> computers daily.
>> Once upon a time some here can remember, before time-sharing operating
>> systems and networks, dealing with computers was a slow process. One
>> thought in terms of the "turn-around time" between submission of a "job"
>> and getting back the printout. If you were very important the
>> turn-around time could be, say, a couple of hours, otherwise many more,
>> even days. Computers were physically inaccessible and formidable, often
>> housed in a building otherwise dedicated to engineering or physics, kept
>> in rooms inaccessible to ordinary users, huge in size and noisy (because
>> of the forced-air cooling which ran in conduits under the floor).
> You seem to imply that computers are now not physically inaccessible,
> formidable, and housed in separate places which large cooling demands.
> But, in fact, this is still the case. True, you have on your desktop a
> computer that allows you to do some things, but more often than not you
> are using that computer to access websites, databases, servers, which
> are running (one hopes) on properly maintained servers in a climate and
> access controlled room elsewhere. The joint academic network through
> which this message is sent relies on an infrastructure that is still
> kept remote. A large portion of it runs through our own machine room
> here in Oxford, and I know I'm nearly deafened by the air conditioning
> noise when I go in there to tend to one of the servers I occasionally
> have to kick. I know too that King's has such a room because I'm told
> that when a water pipe(!!) burst in it last year (or so) the KCL email
> was down for a week. Your computer in some cases is just the
> job-submission media; it is if you like the punch card (or the card
> punch, punch card, and the giving it to the sysadmin to queue up).
>> Much has changed since then, of course. Indeed, I would suggest that our
>> relationship to computing is more a kind of resonance than opposition.
>> Now when one computes one "attends from" the machine to something else,
>> as Polanyi said, in a rapid back-and-forth. Be that as it may, however,
>> much of the talk about computing is as if it were still defined by remoteness,
>> opposition and power, as if computers were still as they were in the 1960s.
>> So, what if we revised our idea to match what in fact we now have? How
>> would that revised view shape the future?
> I think we still have this remoteness, and those in our fields who are
> in the position of the early pioneers of computing are still interacting
> with computers in a similarly remote way. It is just that the basic
> level of interaction with computers as a tool has risen because we all
> have them. However, if you are doing cutting edge GRID/e-research
> computing or similar, you are still submitting your work to some distant
> computer to process (which then sends it all around the world to various
> other computers before giving you an answer back). There are many whose
> computer tasks still take hours if not days, and I think that just
> because our daily functions with a computer have lost that remoteness,
> the nature of cutting edge research tasks you are thinking about still
> fall under the same conception of remote interaction. That remoteness,
> however, is easier to interact with. However, your point certainly holds
> with the way we browse the web. It is only with the recent trend for
> web-based fully functional applications that we are just starting to
> break down the perspective of our interaction consisting of going to a
> number of discrete remote sites. Computing applications on smartphones
> and the like where we all carry a computer with us continually
> problematise this further; in most cases though we are still accessing
> services that we view as remote and much software is still on a
> client/server model.
> I don't think the idea that we conceive of computing because of a legacy
> of the way early hardware systems developed, and I think had to develop
> in that way, is wrong. But I worry that it is an over-simplification
> and that the vast variety of types of computer usage these days create a
> plethora of different forms of perceived interaction.
> My two pence, for whatever that is worth these days,
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