[Humanist] 23.742 slaves in chains or our companions?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Apr 2 07:53:19 CEST 2010


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 742.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 741.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Fri, 02 Apr 2010 06:50:09 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: slaves in chains or companions with us?

Some here will know of the Companions project, "Intelligent, Persistent, 
Personalised Multimodal Interfaces to the Internet", with which Yorick 
Wilks and others are involved, www.companions-project.org/. Among the 
recent publications are the position papers from a forum in 2007, 
www.companions-project.org/downloads/Companions_Position_Papers_20071026.pdf, 
and now a book, Close Engagements with Artificial Companions (Benjamins, 
2010), of which a proof version is online, at 
www.dcs.shef.ac.uk/~yorick/FINAL-AC.pdf. Among the papers there is one 
by Joanna Bryson, "Robots Should be Slaves". Until encountering this 
paper I had assumed, it seems quite wrongly, that the conception of 
computers as slaves or servants was a fossilised remnant from an earlier 
time. It seems not.

Bryson's argument, whose conclusion is her title, is an ethical one. She 
argues that to establish a bond with a robot, by attributing to it human 
identity and so allowing it to be a recipient of our empathy, is a 
fundamental error. This is quite contrary to the argument, originating 
in the early days of computing, that the goal of computing applied to 
the arts is to achieve what Frank Dietrich, in a paper for SIGGRAPH in 
1984, called "a functioning harmonic symbiosis between man and machine” 
("Visual Intelligence", IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 5.7: 
159-68. Dietrich was referring specifically to the work of Harold Cohen 
with his drawing software AARON. Although Lev Manovich points out that 
the collective memory about such work is all to short, a fair amount of 
material exists here to be pondered, e.g. by the communications engineer 
A. Michael Noll, an experimenter in computer art in the early days. See 
his "The Beginnings of Computer Art in the United States: A Memoir", 
Leonardo 27.1: 39-44. Leonardo is, of course, a good place to look for 
this stuff.

So, it seems, we have two quite opposed and living arguments about where 
our work could go. Neither are trivial or easily dismissed. It seems to 
me that for interests like ours a smart companion is preferable by far 
than an ever so obedient slave.

What do you think?

Yours,
WM
-- 
Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.







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