[Humanist] 23.302 fears and desires
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Sep 16 07:57:04 CEST 2009
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 302.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2009 06:56:22 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: fears and desires
Some here may have read earlier this year an attention-grabbing story in
the New York Times, for 26 July, "Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart
Man", www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/science/26robot.html. It reports on a
conference of AI folks, held at the Asilomar conference site in
California, in February 2009, a preliminary report of which may be found
on the AAAI site, www.aaai.org/Organization/Panel/panel-note.pdf.
Whatever else one may say about this, the mere fact that it would happen
I ran across the report of this event thanks to Pamela McCorduck, whose
book, Machines Who Think: A Personal Inquiry into the History and
Prospects of Artificial Intelligence (1979; rev edn 2003), is very much
worth the candle -- not only for the transcripts of interviews she held
with some of the major figures in AI all those years ago but also for
the balance she strikes between documentary and reflective writing. Her
chapters entitled "Us and Them" (8) and "L'Affaire Dreyfus" (9) shed
more light than most attempts I've encountered to deal with people's
fears and articles of faith concerning what computing machines are
That the fears are not generational, not an artefact of the time when
machines were first coming into public view and getting so thoroughly
involved in the Cold War, is strongly suggested by the Asilomar event.
I'd say we have simply dozed off in our comfortable chairs with our warm
laptops silently at the ready.
The polarization among smart people as well as not so smart, between
those who wave the garlic and those who embrace the faith, makes me
wonder what happened to true agnosticism. Must we commit to advance?
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.
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