[Humanist] 31.405 pubs: Hays' intellectual legacy; the Alienist Manifesto

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Nov 2 09:16:54 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 405.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>              (35)
        Subject: Abstract Patterns in Stories: From the intellectual legacy
                of David G. Hays

  [2]   From:    Louis Armand <litteraria at gmail.com>                        (8)

        Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2017 08:01:49 -0400
        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
        Subject: Abstract Patterns in Stories: From the intellectual legacy of David G. Hays

I’ve uploaded another paper. I’ve copied the abstract, table of contents, and the final section into this email. You can download the paper as follows:

Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/34975666/Abstract_Patterns_in_Stories_From_the_intellectual_legacy_of_David_G._Hays 
SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=3060605  http://ssrn.com/abstract=3060605
Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320673318_Abstract_Patterns_in_Stories_From_the_intellectual_legacy_of_David_G_Hays 


Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” exhibits nested structures suggesting an underlying computational process. Seeking to understand that process I joined the computational linguistics research group of David G. Hays in 1974, which was investigating a scheme whereby abstract concepts were defined over patterns in stories. Hays examined concepts of alienation; Mary White examined the beliefs of a millenarian community; and Brain Phillips implemented a system that analyzed short stories for the theme of tragedy. I examined Shakespeare’s sonnet 129, “The Expense of Spirit”, but was unable to apply the system to “Kubla Khan”. In 1976 Hays and I imagined a future system capable of ‘reading’ a Shakespeare play in some non-trivial manner. Such a system had not yet materialized, nor is it in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, I have been identifying texts and films that exhibit ring-composition, which is similar to the nesting evident in “Kubla Khan”. Do any story generators produce such stories?


1957: Sputnik, Frye, and Chomsky 1
Computing “Kubla Khan” 2
Abstract concepts as patterns over stories 3
Reading Shakespeare 7
        Reworking the model 7
        The Expense of Spirit 8
        Prospero or bust 11
In search of ring-form texts 12
The singularity is now 15
References 16

The singularity is now

Let’s go back to the beginning. As a child my imagination was shaped by Walt Disney, among others. Disney, as you know, was an optimist who believed in technology and in progress. He had one TV program about the wonders of atomic power, where, alas, things haven’t quite worked out the way Uncle Walt hoped. But he also evangelized for space travel. That captured my imagination and is no doubt, in part, why I became a fan of NASA. I also watched The Jetsons, a half-hour cartoon show set in a future where everyone was flying around with personal jetpacks. And then there’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1969, which depicted manned flight to near-earth orbit as routine. In the reality of 2017 that’s not the case, nor do we have a computer with the powers of Kubrick’s HAL. On the other hand, we have the Internet and social media; neither Disney, nor the creators of The Jetsons, nor Stanley Kubrick anticipated that.
The point is that I grew up anticipating a future filled with wondrous technology. By mid-1950s standards, yes, we do have wondrous technology. Just not the wondrous technology that was imagined back then. One bit of wondrous future technology has been looming large for several decades, the super-intelligent computer. I suppose we can think of HAL as one instance of that. There are certainly others, such as the computer in the Star Trek franchise, not to mention Commander Data. For the last three decades Ray Kurzweil has been promising such a marvel under the rubric of “The Singularity”. He’s not alone in that belief. 
Color me skeptical.
But here’s how John von Neumann used the term: “The accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, give the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue” [28]. Are we not there? Major historical movements are not caused by point events. They are the cumulative effect of interacting streams of intellectual, cultural, social, political, and natural processes. Think of global warming, of international politics, but also of technology, space exploration – Voyager 1 has left the solar system! – and the many ways we can tell stories that didn’t exist 150 years ago. Have we not reached a point of no return?
The future is now. Oh, I’m sure there are computing marvels still to come. Sooner or later we’re going to figure out how to couple Old School symbolic computing with the current suite of machine learning and neural net technologies and trip the lights fantastic in ways we cannot imagine. That day will arrive more quickly if we concentrate on the marvels we have at hand rather than trying to second guess the future. We are living in the singularity.

Bill Benzon
bbenzon at mindspring.com


http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/  http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/
http://www.facebook.com/bill.benzon  http://www.facebook.com/bill.benzon
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon <https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon>
http://www.bergenarches.com/#image1  http://www.bergenarches.com/#image1

        Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2017 17:06:03 +0100
        From: Louis Armand <litteraria at gmail.com>

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issue 1 / october 2017


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