[Humanist] 31.224 how we are read

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Aug 4 08:01:43 CEST 2017


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 224.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Ken Kahn <toontalk at gmail.com>                             (77)
        Subject: Re:  31.223 how we are read

  [2]   From:    Henry Schaffer <hes at ncsu.edu>                             (87)
        Subject: Re:  31.223 how we are read


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2017 10:01:41 +0100
        From: Ken Kahn <toontalk at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.223 how we are read
        In-Reply-To: <3d35c4fa-ae6a-4489-9c2c-4b68095b4280 at HUB03.ad.oak.ox.ac.uk>


Heller also wrote this (identical?) New Yorker piece:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/24/what-the-enron-e-mails-say-about-us

On 3 August 2017 at 09:05, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 223.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>         Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2017 06:57:30 +0100
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: e-mail and text-analysis
>
>
> In the New York Review of Books for 24 July, staff writer Nathan Heller
> offers us sobering but not surprising reflections on deluges of e-mail,
> and from that subject to the hyped powers of computational methods to
> bring quicker understanding from large bodies of text and ideas about
> them. (His particular focus is the corpus of Enron corporate e-mails.)
> On the analysis of corpora he writes as follows:
>
> > The limits of corpus analysis, in other words, are human; in the gap
> > between data and knowledge, we fall back on our social understandings
> > of the world. This recourse can help computers with complex use
> > cases, such as "pretty." But when help is supposed to flow from
> > machine to human, we can end up gazing into a mirror, not a
> > clarifying lens. Like the work of the midcentury structuralist
> > anthropologists, corpus analysis purports to pattern-seek
> > dispassionately. The endeavor, though, requires focussing on certain
> > patterns over others, and imbuing them with a relational logic based
> > on what's already known. We learn as much about our social selves in
> > the act of interpreting the Enron corpus as we do in the e-mails
> > themselves. Behind the meaning of the commons, there's an author
> > still.
>
> I found out about this article because a kind colleague spotted a
> mention of me and thought I might have missed it, as I had. Here's
> what Heller wrote:
>
> > A field known as digital humanities has emerged around text-crunching
> > analysis in its modern form. A key advocate of the method, Willard
> > McCarty, touted computers' virtues as "modelling machines": they can
> > test and discard working theories without years of exploratory work.
>
> An interesting verb, 'tout'. What Heller probably meant was,
>
> > (a) To importune (a person) in a touting manner;  (b) to solicit
> > custom for (a thing), to try to sell; also (U.S.) in extended sense,
> > to recommend. (OED, v1, 3b)
>
> Do I tout? Anyhow, I've never argued that computers "can test and
> discard working theories without years of exploratory work" -- except
> to quote Northrop Frye's ironically hopeful remark along those lines.
> If only! And to get back to the key paragraph above, of course humans
> are always involved. Why is it that we forget the person, forget that
> the machine does nothing alone, nothing that does not involve us,
> before, after and normally during?
>
> The major point from the analytic side, which he seems to have missed,
> is, I'd think, in the difference, in what we get and the digital method
> misses -- and that these blur in the act of modelling as we use it to
> create meaning.
>
> Too bad Heller also missed the lesson from Humanist: that a curated,
> edited operation can be as much worth reading as any disciplined
> conversation. True?
>
> Yours,
> WM
>
> --
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
> Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
> University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2017 08:57:52 -0400
        From: Henry Schaffer <hes at ncsu.edu>
        Subject: Re:  31.223 how we are read
        In-Reply-To: <20170803080513.854A76BA9 at digitalhumanities.org>


I'm going to focus on one fragment, "... of course humans are always
involved. Why is it that we forget the person, forget that the machine does
nothing alone, nothing that does not involve us, before, after and normally
during?"

As a long time science fiction fan, I've always wondered - and now that we
have having a resurgence of AI work (perhaps mostly enabled by the giant
strides in computational power and memory size) I'm wondering even more,
particularly since I very recently read
https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonybradley/2017/07/31/facebook-ai-creates-its-own-language-in-creepy-preview-of-our-potential-future/
describing computers apparently doing something on their own.

Am I overly concerned?

--henry schaffer



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