[Humanist] 23.278 ethics and profession

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Sep 9 07:01:03 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 278.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    renata lemos <renata.lemoz at eletrocooperativa.org>        (123)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.276 an ethical problem

  [2]   From:    Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>                    (45)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.271 BBQ and fire (on the knee)

        Date: Tue, 8 Sep 2009 08:27:37 -0300
        From: renata lemos <renata.lemoz at eletrocooperativa.org>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.276 an ethical problem
        In-Reply-To: <20090908052252.683DF3925E at woodward.joyent.us>

dear willard,
I believe that the scenario described by wiener would be what jamais cascio
is calling *robonomics*. below are links to his articles on possible
futures, which are very related to wiener´s ideas:



I find it very interesting, and not as pessimistic as wiener´s position.

best regards,

renata lemos

On Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 2:22 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 276.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Mon, 07 Sep 2009 13:55:17 +0100
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: an ethical problem
> Allow me to pass on to you, below, quite a long quotation, from the end
> of the Introduction to Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics, or Control and
> Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Cambridge MA: The
> Technology Press, 1947), pp. 36-9. I find it very moving, and although
> many of our social conditions have changed, and our predicaments are
> somewhat different, I also find myself wanting to be in a seminar in
> which this text was under sustained discussion.
> Comments are, as usual, most welcome.
> WM
> -----
> > It has long been clear to me that the modern ultra-rapid computing
> > machine was in principle an ideal central nervous system to an
> > apparatus for automatic control....
> >
> > Long before Nagasaki and the public awareness of the atomic bomb, it
> > had occurred to me that we were here in the presence of another
> > social potentiality of unheard-of importance for good and for evil.
> > The automatic factory, the assembly-line without human agents, are
> > only so far ahead of us as is limited by our willingness to put such
> > a degree of effort into their engineering as was spent, for example,
> > in the development of the technique of radar in the second world war.
> >
> > I have said that this new development has unbounded possibilities for
> > good and for evil. For one thing, it makes the metaphorical dominance
> > of the machines, as imagined by Samuel Butler, a most immediate and
> > non-metaphorical problem. It gives the human race a new and most
> > effective collection of mechanical slaves to perform its labor. Such
> > mechanical labor has most of the economic properties of slave labor,
> > although, unlike slave labor, it does not involve the direct
> > demoralizing effects of human cruelty. However, any labor that
> > accepts the conditions of competition with slave labor, accepts the
> > conditions of slave labor, and is essentially slave labor. The key
> > word of this statement is competition. It may very well be a good
> > thing for humanity to have the machine remove from it the need of
> > menial and disagreeable tasks; or it may not. I do not know. It
> > cannot be good for these new potentialities to be assessed in the
> > terms of the market, of the money they save....
> >
> > Perhaps I may clarify the historical background of the present
> > situation if I say that the first industrial revolution, the
> > revolution of the «dark satanic mills», was the devaluation of the
> > human arm by the competition of machinery. There is no rate of pay at
> > which a United States pick-and shovel laborer can live which is low
> > enough to compete with the work of a steam shovel as an excavator.
> > The modern industrial revolution is similarly bound to devalue the
> > human brain at least in its simpler and more routine decisions....
> > [T]aking the second revolution as accomplished, the average human
> > being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that it is
> > worth anyone's money to buy.
> >
> > The answer, of course, is to have a society based on human values
> > other than buying or selling....
> >
> > Those of us who have contributed to the new science of cybenetics
> > thus stand in a moral position which is, to say the least, not very
> > comfortable. We have contributed to the initiation of a new science
> > which, as I have said, embraces technical developments with great
> > possibilities for good and for evil. We can only hand it over into
> > the world that exists about us, and this is the world of Belsen and
> > Hiroshima. We do not even have the choice of suppressing these new
> > technical developments. They belong to the age, and the most any of
> > us can do by suppression is to put the development of the subject
> > into the hands of the most irresponsible and most venal of our
> > engineers. The best we can do is to see that a large public
> > understands the trend and the bearing of the present work, and to
> > confine our personal efforts to those fields, such as physiology and
> > psychology, most remote from war and exploitation. As we have seen,
> > there are those who hope that the good of a better understanding of
> > man and society which is offered by this new field of work may
> > anticipate and outweigh the incidental contribution we are making to
> > the concentration of power (which is always concentrated by its very
> > conditions of existence, in the hands of the most unscrupulous). I
> > write in 1947, and I am compelled to say that it is a very slight
> > hope.
> Norbert Wiener, Instituto Nacional de Cardologia, Cuidad de Mexico,
> November 1947.
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

        Date: Tue, 08 Sep 2009 13:01:51 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.271 BBQ and fire (on the knee)
        In-Reply-To: <20090906080702.BB73238EC8 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

I'm sorry I touched a sore spot by describing our preoccupation with 
the label as like a bad knee. Please understand that I don't think a 
bad knee has to be a bad thing! :-) It just hurts sometimes, is all.

Of course you are right that the label conjures something. But the 
nature of conjuring is that one doesn't really quite control whatever 
spirit one calls up. Indeed, that's the idea. In the best case, the 
name you use inspires listeners to project their own positive 
feelings onto what you are naming. You can't do this by controlling 
either the language or them, or not absolutely: rhetoric is not a 
science but an art. (To the extent it's a science, I think it's a 
dark one and likely to be very pernicious.)

In fact, I think the best label raises as many questions as it offers 
answers. That's part of the reason I think "digital humanities" has 
gained traction.

I mean, no label is a good one, for reasons you have suggested, but 
any label is better than none, isn't it, if one is to distinguish 
something? (Keep in mind how many names have started as insults and 
ended as boasts.) And can't I say this while concurring that the 
label matters, and that there are times when the metaphor becomes the thing?

Personally, I think "digital humanities" was an improvement over 
"humanities computing", if only because:

* It's vaguer, which befits the field better as it grows into 
interests that used to be inconceivable;
* It avoids the term "computer", to which many of our humanistic 
peers had developed an allergy;
* It allows not just for the application of computers to humanities, 
but for the application of humanistic study to 
digital/computational/technological culture and media, and I regard 
this combination as a very fruitful synergy.

This isn't to say that I think "digital humanities" is perfect. But I 
don't think that any name is perfect until it becomes so, which 
requires time and the growth or building of the thing -- in this 
case, that constituency I was writing about.


Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez at mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
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