[Humanist] 23.338 the invisible middle

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Oct 3 09:08:56 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 338.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 2 Oct 2009 19:34:14 -0600
        From: Sterling Fluharty <phdinhistory at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.337 the invisible middle
        In-Reply-To: <20091002125756.4B4573831C at woodward.joyent.us>


Your continuing comparisons between HC/DH and AI have got me wondering a few

Should we be concerned with how AI is potentially incompatible with the
humanities?  Isn't AI primarily intent on replicating mathematical and
scientific genius?  Aren't the humanities focused on a wide range of things
that make us human, as opposed to just our intelligence?

Should we find parallels between the fact that advances in AI are taken for
granted when they become mainstream and the predictions that the "digital"
in "digital humanities" will become redundant in the near future because its
methods will be widely adopted?  Or will we find that making "wild
forecasts" is what helps inspire advances in theory and research in both

Should we criticize AI for setting its sights on modeling the intelligence
of sole humans and praise DH/HC for amplifying and combining the abilities
of researchers?  Which is better positioned to overcome the foibles of human
reasoning and tap into the wisdom of the crowd?

Is DH/HC little more than the mixture of computer science with the
traditional humanities?  Does your discussion of Category C suggest that
HC/DH may have something to learn from cognitive science?  Does your mention
of digital libraries mean that information science could be an important
aspect of DH/HC?

Best wishes,
Sterling Fluharty
University of New Mexico

On Fri, Oct 2, 2009 at 6:57 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 337.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Fri, 02 Oct 2009 13:51:51 +0100
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: the invisible middle
> Those here who are familiar with the history of work in artificial
> intelligence will already know of Professor Sir James Lighthill's report on
> the field commissioned by the U.K. Science Research Council in 1972,
> basically for advice on what to do about supporting this work. (Lighthill
> was at the time Lucasian Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cambridge,
> i.e.
> Stephen Hawking's predecessor; his biography is in the DNB.) After
> receiving
> this report, the Council put it together with a primary response from
> Professor N. S. Sutherland (Experimental Psychology, Sussex) and
> commentaries from Dr R. M. Needham and Professors H. C. Longuet-Higgins and
> D. Michie. A fascinating document altogether. It was published as
> Artificial
> Intelligence: a paper symposium (London: Science Research Council, 1973).
> What's especially interesting and relevant to us is how Lighthill's
> partitioning of the work he reviews in effect excludes that which
> Sutherland
> and others subsequently have regarded as the core of AI. In consequence of
> this exclusion Lighthill is able to argue that the amalgam of activities
> called "artificial intelligence" lacks genuine coherence.
> Lighthill divides the work into three categories. Category A is advanced
> automation ranging from industrial and military applications to scientific
> and mathematical, with the aim of replacing human work in specific areas.
> Category C is research into central nervous system phenomena, both
> neurobiological and psychological. Although both have to some degree
> disappointed expectations, he says, progress in them is typical for
> scientific research as a whole. By Category B he denotes a bridging
> activity
> whose ambition is to make out of results from A and C an artificially
> intelligent simulacra, i.e. a robots. There, he argues, the disappointments
> are far more widespread and severe. Unsurprisingly he invokes Mary
> Shelley's
> Frankenstein, but he also, rather more gratuitously, cites an argument then
> floating about that robot-building is driven by a male desire for
> parthenogenesis. He dismisses this argument, but still he mentions it. Both
> Frankensteinian and parthenogenic resonances constitute interesting lines
> of
> research to follow, but in context they seem to be there in order to help
> cut the scientific ground out from under Category B altogether.
> In sum A and C, which already belong to well-established fields, seem to
> him
> best at home in those fields and in process of separating for the purpose.
> B
> he implies should be abandoned.
> Sutherland's critique and Longuet-Higgins' commentary are very insightful.
> Sutherland argues for B as research basic to all parts of AI. He argues
> that
> the disparity between wild forecasts and actual achievements, however much
> we may be annoyed by that wildness, points to the complexity of what humans
> do and how they do it. He argues essentially negatively for the scientific
> value of forecasting which falls short of actuality, since this is part of
> finding out with computing how intelligent behaviour is done.
> Longuet-Higgins praises the value of Lighthill's searching questions into
> the justification of doing AI, but like Sutherland he argues the scientific
> case. The problem with AI he fingers is the bluntly technological appeal --
> the utilitarian appeal to applicability -- then commonly made, and still
> made. Research into something so challenging as human intelligence cannot,
> he suggests, be defended by pointing to practical fruits, realisation of
> which is too far out of reach. Anyhow those fruits, insofar as they can be
> realised, are the business of the fields of application to worry about;
> they
> are fruits for them.
> I suggest an analogy between Lighthill's partitioning of AI and the
> structure which places humanities computing proper between computer science
> on the one side and the increasingly digital humanities on the other. The
> problem isn't structural in either case. Rather it's the inability to see
> what the mediating activity is all about, indeed its essential role in
> doing
> something genuinely new by tackling our fundamental ignorance about
> fundamental things. In our realm that inability is analogously the result
> of
> construing basic research in terms of its deliverables: what humanities
> computing can do for digital history, digital literary studies, digital
> libraries et al. This suggests (does it not?) that Realpolitik aside, as
> long as the research agenda is set for humanities computing wholly by those
> humanities for their own ends, what happens will be not only weak but also
> vulnerable to the next Lighthill.
> Comments?
> Yours,WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/ http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/%7Ewmccarty/ 
> ;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.
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