[Humanist] 31.376 sustained reading from screen; not as text but marks on pages

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Oct 23 08:22:21 CEST 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 376.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>                   (127)
        Subject: Re:  31.373 not as 'text' but as marks on pages?

  [2]   From:    Marinella Testori <testorimarinella at gmail.com>           (103)
        Subject: Re:  31.375 sustained reading from screen

        Date: Sun, 22 Oct 2017 13:58:13 +0200
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  31.373 not as 'text' but as marks on pages?
        In-Reply-To: <20171021070603.D58C880FC at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

Dear Bill,

In the second of your two recent Blog posts you point us to --
Borges redux: Computing Babel -- you say your thoughts are
driven by a wondering like this.

 "How come, for example, we can create this computer system
  that crunches through a two HUGE parallel piles of texts in
  two languages and produce a system than can then make
  passable translations from one of those languages to the
  other WITHOUT, however, UNDERSTANDING any language
  whatsoever?  Surely the fact that THAT – and similar things
  -- is possible tells us something about something, but
  what?" [1]

Yes, this is something to wonder about.  And I agree with
where your thinking on this takes you.  Here is how I would
Bable on about your wondering.

First, because this seems unclear from you what you write,
these (so called) Deep Learning Translators (DLTs) work
through two huge piles of paired texts: each text, in one
language, is paired with a human translation into the other
language.  DLTs need to be fed with human translations of
texts.  They don't "learn" to become (artificial) translators
if they are fed with their own translations, unlike DL systems
which can "learn" to play games, such as Go for example, by
playing against themselves.  (That's because in the case of
these games, success and good play are externally definable:
not so for translation.  Good translation is manifested by
examples, not defined by rules.)

If you feed a (suitable configured) DLT with enough examples
of good enough (human made) text translations, then it is not
a surprise that it will come to encode meaning-free
text-to-text translation mappings that work well enough for
the translated text to be a "passable translations."  If this
DL approach works at all, it can hardly end up doing anything
else.  The surprise would be if, after much good training, a
DLT couldn't cough up at least passable translations.  There
are regularities in text translations; probabilistic

But, we should notice, as you do!  It takes a human to tell if
the translation is passable or not, and it takes a skilled
human translator to turn this passable translation in to a
professionally acceptable one, which is often what is really
needed, and certainly needed to produce more training fodder
for the DLT.

So, first humans have to do all the translating of texts to
produce the huge piles of stuff we feed to our DLT, then it
takes a human to say if the resulting translation is passable
or not.  The DLT cannot do this.  It'll give you certain
values to do with the statistical probabilities of its
translation efforts, and perhaps even include other less
probable possibilities, according to its calculations.  But it
cannot tell if it's most probable version is a passable
translation or not.  It probably will be passable, if the DLT
has been trained with enough good human translation pairs.

All this is to get to this question.  Why do we think these
DLTs are doing any translating, when it requires humans to
first do loads and loads and loads of good translations for it
to have anything to "learn" from?  And why do we think these
DLTs are doing any translation when they can't tell you if
what they come out with is a passable translation or not?
Only we humans can do this.  All the translating here is being
done by humans, no?

I'd suggest that a fairer way to talk about this is to say
that these (so called) DLTs produce passable translation
look-a-likes, not real translations.  How they do this is
clever, certainly, ingenious, even.  But they do not do it by
translating texts.  They do it by inducing probabilistic
pattern mapping rules from huge numbers of human made text
translation pairs.  It's a clever trick.  

We should call this Artificial Cleverness (AC), not AI
(Artificial Intelligence), I think.  Or, if you insist upon
calling it AI, we should be clear what kind of 'artificial' is
in action here: the artificial in 'artificial light,' or the
artificial in 'artificial flower'?  Artificial light is real
light made by artificial means.  Artificial flowers are not
real flowers, just artificially formed things made to look
like real flowers.  DLTs are, I'd say, examples of A(flower)I,
not A(light)I. Or, better said, I think, examples of AC.

I may be muddled in my thinking, and only able to write
passable English, but I'd bet some that Google Translate won't
make a more passable version in any language you ask it to
translate this text into.  (At least, I hope not!)

Best regards,


PS: Are we, I wonder, in a Trumpian world, allowed to call
    what DLTs give us, "fake translations"?


[1]  Blog post by Bill Benzon 
      Borges redux: Computing Babel -- Is that what's going on
      with these abstract spaces of high dimensionality?
     Friday, October 20, 2017

> On 21 Oct 2017, at 09:06, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 373.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2017 07:23:44 -0400
>        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
>        Subject: Texts and the library of Babel
> Hi Willard,
> I’ve got two recent posts that might be of interest to the seminar.
> Can you learn anything worthwhile about a text if you treat it, not as a TEXT, but as a string of marks on pages? [#DH] <https://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2017/10/can-you-learn-anything-worthwhile-about.html>: 
> I talk about the difference between “text” as literary critics have come to (mis)use the term, and “text” as it is the object of examination in computational criticism. While literary critics occasionally mean either the codex or the graphic marks within when they talk of the text, critics mostly have something grander and more diffuse in mind, something that’s tethered to the physical symbols, but that’s more than those symbols. That something may be more or less the world or something that happens in the mind of a reader, but it’s not (merely) the symbols. Computational critics, on the other hand, have nothing but those symbols to work from. The conventional critic, then, is utterly baffled that computational critics can manage to discover anything at all in a mere pile of graphic marks.
> Borges redux: Computing Babel – Is that what’s going on with these abstract spaces of high dimensionality? [#DH] <https://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2017/10/borges-redux-computing-babel-is-that.html>:
> I use Borges’s “The Literary of Babel” as a way of approaching the philosophical implications of machine learning and such.
> Bill Benzon
> bbenzon at mindspring.com
> 646-599-3232
> 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: Sun, 22 Oct 2017 15:57:04 +0200
        From: Marinella Testori <testorimarinella at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  31.375 sustained reading from screen
        In-Reply-To: <20171022065129.24CDE8110 at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

Dear Willard,

Once I read that the attitude of merging yourself into something written
(book, newspaper, magazine), which entails the act of bending the neck down,
is something instinctive, ancestral so to say, typical of when we want to
pay close attention to what we are examining. It is like we wish to
physically remove from our sight everything around us and stay concentrated
on something requiring all our concentration.

Unfortunately, I am not longer able to recover the article where I read
this. The idea of something 'ancestral' to explain the traditional way of
reading, nevertheless, appears to me intriguing to be further scrutinized.

Thank you for your attention, many regards.


>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 375.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2017 09:57:35 +0000
>         From: "Cosgrave, Mike" <M.Cosgrave at ucc.ie>
>         Subject: Re:  31.371 sustained reading from screen?
>         In-Reply-To: <20171020055252.B2A9B7CD7@
> s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>
> I do 99.9% of my reading and work on mobile devices now (but I do still
> buy well made physical books; art, or poetry, or cookbooks)
> I use the MacBook about once a week; and only for certain specific things
> which I can't do on my iPad (Printing from OpenOffice, manipulating course
> assets on Blackboard)
> If something is worth reading for work, its worth annotating, and tools
> like iAnnotate or Liquid Text are simply much better for highlighting,
> annotating and reusing text than paper.
> If I'm reading for pleasure, its simply more convenient. (and in that I
> think I would now include listening to podcasts while I drive to and from
> college.)
> In practically every course I teach, I require students to submit an
> annotated pdf of a course reading, as well as mindmapping articles. My
> colleague Donna Alexander does the full spectrum from physical annotation
> of poetry, to digital (using hypothes.is) in her classes - we count these
> as all part of the active reading process
> I do point out to my students that this is the result of many years of
> playing with tech toys, from the Newton to the Clie to the iPad culminating
> in having a teaching room where I can mirror my tablets (iOs and Android)
> to the main screen wirelessly; technology which I use daily to oppress my
> students.  My own children read mainly on screen, but do buy and read
> physical books - my feeling is that most of my students still read more on
> paper than on screen though.
> ________________________________
> > From: humanist-bounces at lists.digitalhumanities.org <
> humanist-bounces at lists.digitalhumanities.org> on behalf of Humanist
> Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
> > Sent: 20 October 2017 06:52:52
> > To: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> > Subject: [Humanist] 31.371 sustained reading from screen?
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 371.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist<http://www.
> digitalhumanities.org/humanist>
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2017 06:42:18 +0100
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: sustained reading from screen?
> Who does sustained reading from screen under what conditions?
> My own reading habits go something like this. If the reading is of
> articles from which I need to extract basics of the argument, then I
> skim the text on screen and sometimes take notes. If I want to immerse
> myself in the argument and assimilate the author's way of thinking, then
> it has to be from a codex. (As a result of this my library grows with
> alarming rapidity.) I am forced to make an exception when the book isn't
> available but can be found online.
> I should note that the screens I read from, when I must, are of the
> high-resolution kind. I should also note that I can read from a
> high-definition tablet but seldom do so unless away from home. And
> I do have comfortable places to sit with said tablet.
> Are these habits a function of age? Do those who have learned to read
> from screen differ?
> Comments welcome, as usual.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/ http://www.mccarty.org.uk/ ),
> Professor emeritus, 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<
> http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20>)

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