[Humanist] 22.321 hardware and interpretation

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Nov 12 22:31:14 CET 2008

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 321.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2008 09:25:59 -0800 (PST)
        From: Ms Mary Dee Harris <marydeeh at yahoo.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist]  22.316 hardware and interpretation
        In-Reply-To: <20081112072301.9584C268CC at woodward.joyent.us>

Willard et al., 

This question is most appropriate, I believe, not only because the hardware has changed, but becausee our whole perception of computing has changed.  I saw your original question about Hardware and Interpretation on the same day that I was explaining my work in Natural Language Generation (NLG) to a neighbor.  I described the application of creating narrative output for an electronic medical records system, thinking to myself about the language model we had created with Java code.  My neighbor listened intently and then asked, "But how does that work with the 0s and 1s?"

I had to assume that she had taken a introductory computer class at some point where the notion of binary circuitry was described, and I thought then how far we've come from that concept.  That circuitry is still basically the same, but we've built so many layers upon layers of virtual machines on top of the actual hardware, that the notion of "computer hardware" is hardly relevant.  I was taken aback by my neighbor's question and redirected the conversation since there was no easy cocktail party answer!  

When I designed the NLG system, I called it a "narrative engine," in the sense that you put data into the "engine" and get narrative out as a result.  The architecture of the narrative engine matches a language model with a grammar, a lexicon, and a set of rules for applying the data to produce natural sentences in English.  I never gave a thought to the 1s and 0s, or even the machine code that underlies the "engine."  

The same can be said about the wireless world.  My wireless router at home went out a few weeks ago, and I was lost, being out of touch with the "world."  I felt very alienated somehow, not being able to log in and check email, news, and such.  But my "smart" cell phone was still connected to its satellite routers, so I really wasn't out of touch.  I just had to adapt a bit.  

Having the immediate ability to connect to wikipedia, to up-to-the-minute news, and stream video as it records events changes our perception of what is "here" vs "there", as Renata says.  Personally I don't want to go back and feel pity for folks that haven't yet bought into this new world where so much is instantly available to us. 

Mary Dee

Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D. 
Chief Language Officer
Catalis, Inc. 
Austin, Texas USA

--- On Wed, 11/12/08, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
> > To: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> Date: Wednesday, November 12, 2008, 1:23 AM
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 316.
>          Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's
> College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to:
> humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2008 08:57:31 -0200
>         From: "Renata T. S. Lemos"
> <renata.lemoz at eletrocooperativa.org>
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.312 hardware and
> interpretation
>         In-Reply-To:
> <20081111063509.2DBE024C07 at woodward.joyent.us>
> Dear James and Maurizio,
> I believe you are talking about different things than the
> question Willard
> is trying to address. I believe that the idea you are
> making of computing is
> still confining its dimension to the PC era. However we are
> moving far
> beyond this simple user interface. Let's take a look at
> William Gibson's
> latest interview, in which he reassesses what is happening
> with digital
> technologies:
> *WG*http://voidmanufacturing.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/william-gibson-interview/:
> *I wanted a way to visualise the extent to which something
> has changed since
> I started writing about information technology. When I
> coined the word
> cyberspace, cyberspace was there, and everything else was
> here. That has
> reversed itself over the course of my writing. I literally
> think that
> cyberspace is now here, and a complete lack of connectivity
> is now there. If
> we could see the wireless exchanges of digital information
> taking place
> around us, we would be living in a much busier visual
> landscape. Most of
> what we do as a society we now either primarily do
> digitally, in what we
> used to call cyberspace, or we simultaneously do digitally
> and in the
> physical world. If you are driving with a GPS system, you
> are simultaneously
> driving your car and manoeuvring your car through a digital
> construct. I
> believe that very few of us are aware of the extent to
> which that has
> already happened, and I suspect that I'm not aware of
> it to anywhere near
> the real extent to which it has happened. *
> Think about the wireless computing power of your Iphones
> and blackberrys:
> how remote can that really be? It's mobile, it's
> pervasive, and, borrowing a
> term from Bauman, it's becoming more and more liquid...
> And I am just talking about the technologies that are
> already available in
> the market. If you move into the cutting edge research
> being made at
> scientific labs around the world, then you will see that a
> new revolution
> based on nano enabled devices is on the verge of coming to
> existence.
> So let us not accomodate ourselves to existing
> perspectives.
> I agree with Willard in that it is time to starting asking
> new questions.
> Regards,
> Renata Lemos
> Eletrocooperativa, Knowledge Coordinator
> PUC SP, Semiotics Researcher
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