[Humanist] 26.193 readers and machines

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jul 28 01:49:15 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 193.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2012 07:57:05 -0400
        From: Darby Orcutt <dcorcutt at ncsu.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.189 readers and machines
        In-Reply-To: <20120726232203.8DE7E2867B9 at woodward.joyent.us>

     You are certainly not just cane-thumping! Asking such questions,
and thus problematizing the current narrative is vital.
     I see the recent "logic of replacement" as continuous with the
presumptions made at other historical moments of proliferating
adoption of new technologies. In an earlier period, the machine
threatened (rhetorically and actually) to replace the factory worker;
now, even we humanists are imperiled.
     Analogically, I think of how advances in scientific understanding
of animal intelligence have displaced our formerly entrenched notions
of what makes us as humans unique in the world. I think we may be in
the very early days of machine intelligence likewise challenging our
presumptions, and already forcing us to articulate in ways we have not
had to spell out previously just what it is that makes a human
different than a computer.
     Thanks for the food for thought.

Darby Orcutt
Assistant Head
Collection Management
North Carolina State University Libraries
Box 7111
Raleigh, NC  27695-7111
919/ 513-0364
919/ 513-1108 fax
dcorcutt at ncsu.edu

On Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 7:22 PM, Humanist Discussion Group
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 189.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2012 08:45:48 +1000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: designing ways of being
> No doubt the finely produced TextGrid film, "Virtual Research Worlds",
> announced in Humanist 26.186, will be useful in attracting students and
> helping to explain the digital humanities. But I wonder: what are we saying
> when we say that a human being can read 4,000 books in a lifetime and then
> zoom on to show machines of amazing capacity doing their work? Isn't it a
> category error to equate the act of reading with the action of fetching and
> processing? Isn't reading more than the physical operation of handling a
> book in the way a reader does? When reading is reduced to physical handling
> of a codex, it then becomes possible to compare a lifetime handling of books
> to fetching and processing of the incomparably greater amount of data that a
> machine can handle. And so the human reader comes out looking rather
> inferior. It would then seem only a matter of time until the machine
> encroaches even more on the human than it already has when one thinks in
> this way. Why have the reader at all?
> Why the mimetic logic of replacement? Why are we driven to assert, for
> example, that close reading is out, distant reading in? Why must the
> availability of a million books drive us to argue that slow reading of a
> single book is, well, no longer cool? Why must we cripple ourselves by
> presuming that humans have no other capacities than our marvellous machinery
> can augment? (I think these are very interesting questions to be asking,
> not just rhetorical flourishes of an exasperated cane-thumper!)
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
> the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
> University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
> (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/
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