[Humanist] 24.121 measuring up?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jun 17 10:47:23 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 121.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2010 08:35:14 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: measuring up

For the purpose of argument let me make a distinction between 
*prosthesis* (OED: "The replacement of defective or absent parts of the 
body by artificial substitutes") and *augmentation* ("making greater, or 
adding to; extension, enlargement"), with obvious reference to Douglas 
Engelbart. These two blur into each other, as we see particularly when 
the former is used to denote extension of normal capacities. Let's 
assume also that the norm hiding in this distinction is unproblematic 
and indicates what is "normal", as we say, i.e. average.

So, a couple of questions.

(1) Can we agree that in the development of our digital tools and 
methods our aim is augmentation rather than prosthesis? A prosthetic 
tool would not just be e.g. a text-to-speech or speech-to-text 
synthesizer designed for someone who cannot produce the one but can the 
other, but also, say, a diary reminder for the busy person who cannot 
remember where he or she has to go when. An augmenting tool would be 
something that allows e.g. all literature in a particular language, or 
in several languages, to be searched for a particular syntactic 
or semantic pattern.

(2) If augmentation is our goal, then how in the various areas of our 
activity do we measure up, and what can we learn from our successes and 
our failures? And beyond those, what can we learn from our dreams of an 
augmented human?

In the gym this morning, I found myself (as one does) gazing in 
endorphinic intoxication (NOT the right word, but you get the idea) at 
some muscle-building machines and wondering where they fit into the 
continuum from prosthesis to augmentation. I don't think this is a 
simple question, though I admit that as I type the endorphins are still 
doing their marvellous work.


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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