Humans tie with computer in Jeopardy

The computer could not defeat humanity in Jeopardy, at least in the first round.  They tied.  The showdown between “Watson,” a specially-programmed computer from IBM, and Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The show is syndicated and is usually on at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Man matches machine in Jeopardy! showdown • The Register.

So even if Watson wins, will that mean that computers have a greater mental capacity than human beings?  I would say not at all.  The human mind is infinitely more than logic and information retrieval.  Calculation like that takes up only a miniscule part of our consciousness.  There are also feeling and perception and memory and fantasy and moral reactions and personality and will.

HT:  Webmonk

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • WebMonk

    Well, depending on how you mean the term, computers could certainly have the perception part of what you say they are missing, and the same thing for the memory part. It also depends on how you define “mental capacity”.

    Consciousness, though, we can agree is still a long time away for computers – if ever achieved.

  • WebMonk

    Well, depending on how you mean the term, computers could certainly have the perception part of what you say they are missing, and the same thing for the memory part. It also depends on how you define “mental capacity”.

    Consciousness, though, we can agree is still a long time away for computers – if ever achieved.

  • WebMonk

    Oh, also, in the practice rounds done in January, Watson beat them pretty handily. So, I suspect they refined the questions to give the humans a better chance, probably by adding more questions with oblique references for which the computer will have a harder time finding answers.

  • WebMonk

    Oh, also, in the practice rounds done in January, Watson beat them pretty handily. So, I suspect they refined the questions to give the humans a better chance, probably by adding more questions with oblique references for which the computer will have a harder time finding answers.

  • collie

    But also, the fact that the computer doesn’t see or hear, but is fed a text file of the question, gives it an advantage. It is not forced to understand human language spoken audibly.

  • collie

    But also, the fact that the computer doesn’t see or hear, but is fed a text file of the question, gives it an advantage. It is not forced to understand human language spoken audibly.

  • Dan Kempin

    100110100111100101101011010110101001011100!

  • Dan Kempin

    100110100111100101101011010110101001011100!

  • Rich Shipe

    The impressive part for the humans is their recall of specific knowledge. That part is easy for the computer.

    The impressive part for the computer is that it can understand the question. That part is easy for any human.

  • Rich Shipe

    The impressive part for the humans is their recall of specific knowledge. That part is easy for the computer.

    The impressive part for the computer is that it can understand the question. That part is easy for any human.

  • WebMonk

    collie – that isnt’ a particular stumbling block right now. Translating audible sounds into words is fairly straight-forward for computers, but is a completely different challenge from processing those words for meaning and find the answer/question based on the words.

    This challenge is intended to showcase advances in the ability to process words for meaning, not showcase audio-to-text translation. The audio-to-text part has long since been accomplished and is available on a simple PC (or Mac, if you must, but best of all a Linux box! :-)

    Rich, a project I just finished was extracting the words and then analyzing for meaning and content. That part was pretty boring – we’ve had that capability for quite a while. The part that was really cool was that we were extracting the voice from audio that had heavy background sounds, such as recordings taken at a rock concert where I couldn’t pick out what the person was saying myself, but we managed to get the system to pick out just about every voice in the recording, and separate them out by speaker.

    Very cool stuff!

  • WebMonk

    collie – that isnt’ a particular stumbling block right now. Translating audible sounds into words is fairly straight-forward for computers, but is a completely different challenge from processing those words for meaning and find the answer/question based on the words.

    This challenge is intended to showcase advances in the ability to process words for meaning, not showcase audio-to-text translation. The audio-to-text part has long since been accomplished and is available on a simple PC (or Mac, if you must, but best of all a Linux box! :-)

    Rich, a project I just finished was extracting the words and then analyzing for meaning and content. That part was pretty boring – we’ve had that capability for quite a while. The part that was really cool was that we were extracting the voice from audio that had heavy background sounds, such as recordings taken at a rock concert where I couldn’t pick out what the person was saying myself, but we managed to get the system to pick out just about every voice in the recording, and separate them out by speaker.

    Very cool stuff!

  • collie

    Webmonk, thanks for that explanation; I can see what you’re saying when looking at some of the possible answers the computer considers – sometimes they’re funny. Without having to use voice recognition, though, doesn’t the computer have a time advantage over the human contestants? Just wondering.

  • collie

    Webmonk, thanks for that explanation; I can see what you’re saying when looking at some of the possible answers the computer considers – sometimes they’re funny. Without having to use voice recognition, though, doesn’t the computer have a time advantage over the human contestants? Just wondering.

  • collie

    ok, the human contestants know what the question means or wants as an answer, but the computer has to figure that part out. Does that take away the time advantage the computer seems to have?

  • collie

    ok, the human contestants know what the question means or wants as an answer, but the computer has to figure that part out. Does that take away the time advantage the computer seems to have?

  • WebMonk

    collie – the time needed by the computer is certainly part of the challenge, but the time-consuming part is not the parsing of the sentences. My laptop did thousands of sentences in less than a minute. Watson is probably using more complicated and complete tools to extract meaning from the Jeopardy answers, but it is also MUCH faster.

    So, extracting meaning is almost instantaneous. The part that takes the computer time is the searching for information – it has millions of books in its memory and that data is indexed and connected a million different ways, and it takes a LOT of work to parse through all that data searching for the information which will provide the question to Jeopardy’s answer, and determining how confident it is in the answers it derives.

    The computer gets the answers given to it in text, it then spends a thousandth of a second figuring out what the answer means, and then spends several seconds searching for the question to match the answer.

    The humans have to wait a second or two for the first couple words to be spoken (or perhaps they can read the question on a screen?) before their brains start searching through their memory for the question to match the answer. So, yes, if the text of the question is given to the computer at the very first instance Trebek begins his first sylable, then the computer is getting a bit of a jump on the humans in that regard.

    Speed, though, is largely a matter of cost – if they didn’t mind throwing a few million more dollars at the problem, IBM could probably get the answers back almost instantly – tiny fractions of a second. In another ten years, no one will be interested in putting a computer onto Jeopardy because it won’t be any challenge for a computer to beat humans on Jeopardy every single time.

  • WebMonk

    collie – the time needed by the computer is certainly part of the challenge, but the time-consuming part is not the parsing of the sentences. My laptop did thousands of sentences in less than a minute. Watson is probably using more complicated and complete tools to extract meaning from the Jeopardy answers, but it is also MUCH faster.

    So, extracting meaning is almost instantaneous. The part that takes the computer time is the searching for information – it has millions of books in its memory and that data is indexed and connected a million different ways, and it takes a LOT of work to parse through all that data searching for the information which will provide the question to Jeopardy’s answer, and determining how confident it is in the answers it derives.

    The computer gets the answers given to it in text, it then spends a thousandth of a second figuring out what the answer means, and then spends several seconds searching for the question to match the answer.

    The humans have to wait a second or two for the first couple words to be spoken (or perhaps they can read the question on a screen?) before their brains start searching through their memory for the question to match the answer. So, yes, if the text of the question is given to the computer at the very first instance Trebek begins his first sylable, then the computer is getting a bit of a jump on the humans in that regard.

    Speed, though, is largely a matter of cost – if they didn’t mind throwing a few million more dollars at the problem, IBM could probably get the answers back almost instantly – tiny fractions of a second. In another ten years, no one will be interested in putting a computer onto Jeopardy because it won’t be any challenge for a computer to beat humans on Jeopardy every single time.

  • Porcell

    In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle identifies five intellectual habits, Techne [art], phronesis [prudence], episteme [science or knowing in the broad sense], Nous [Intellect or innate knowledge], Sophia/Sapentia [wisdom].

    The computer doesn’t now, nor will it ever, come close to mastering any of these habits. Jeopardy deals with mere facts and has little to do with the richness or complexity of mind.

  • Porcell

    In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle identifies five intellectual habits, Techne [art], phronesis [prudence], episteme [science or knowing in the broad sense], Nous [Intellect or innate knowledge], Sophia/Sapentia [wisdom].

    The computer doesn’t now, nor will it ever, come close to mastering any of these habits. Jeopardy deals with mere facts and has little to do with the richness or complexity of mind.

  • collie

    Thanks, webmonk; I’ll watch tonight with new insight :-)

  • collie

    Thanks, webmonk; I’ll watch tonight with new insight :-)

  • collie

    I guess I should say; my main issue, which webmonk clarified, was with the computer’s ability to comprehend the question before the other contestants, thus letting it ring in first. The ability to hear the question is not needed, even for the humans. A ‘doh’ moment.

  • collie

    I guess I should say; my main issue, which webmonk clarified, was with the computer’s ability to comprehend the question before the other contestants, thus letting it ring in first. The ability to hear the question is not needed, even for the humans. A ‘doh’ moment.

  • WebMonk

    Well, I haven’t been able to find any details about exactly when the computer gets the answer compared to when the humans get it.

    People can read the clue right away, but they cannot buzz in until Trebek has finished reading the clue. I assume the computer has the same limitation – I think I read that the computer has a physical button to press rather than just using an electronic signal to buzz in. Obviously its motions can be much faster than a person’s, but a person can estimate when Trebek will finish reading and have their hand already in motion to buzz in before the thing is active, and hopefully actually be triggering the buzzer the very instant buzzing in is allowed.

    (if a player buzzes in early, he can’t buzz in again for a quarter second, so the players have to be careful about that)

  • WebMonk

    Well, I haven’t been able to find any details about exactly when the computer gets the answer compared to when the humans get it.

    People can read the clue right away, but they cannot buzz in until Trebek has finished reading the clue. I assume the computer has the same limitation – I think I read that the computer has a physical button to press rather than just using an electronic signal to buzz in. Obviously its motions can be much faster than a person’s, but a person can estimate when Trebek will finish reading and have their hand already in motion to buzz in before the thing is active, and hopefully actually be triggering the buzzer the very instant buzzing in is allowed.

    (if a player buzzes in early, he can’t buzz in again for a quarter second, so the players have to be careful about that)

  • WebMonk

    Ha! After looking for a good five minutes for the answer, I gave up and wrote my comment above about when the computer gets the answer. Then, what should pop up in Google News?

    http://arstechnica.com/media/news/2011/02/ibms-watson-tied-for-1st-in-jeopardy-almost-sneaks-wrong-answer-by-trebek.ars

    The article even has a cool behind-the-scenes look at how they needed to re-shoot a scene. Alex forgot that Watson couldn’t hear or be influenced by the other contestants’ answers, so its incorrect answer which was initially accepted due to being influenced by the previously stated incorrect answer had to be re-ruled and not accepted.

    Cool stuff!

  • WebMonk

    Ha! After looking for a good five minutes for the answer, I gave up and wrote my comment above about when the computer gets the answer. Then, what should pop up in Google News?

    http://arstechnica.com/media/news/2011/02/ibms-watson-tied-for-1st-in-jeopardy-almost-sneaks-wrong-answer-by-trebek.ars

    The article even has a cool behind-the-scenes look at how they needed to re-shoot a scene. Alex forgot that Watson couldn’t hear or be influenced by the other contestants’ answers, so its incorrect answer which was initially accepted due to being influenced by the previously stated incorrect answer had to be re-ruled and not accepted.

    Cool stuff!

  • Tom Hering
  • Tom Hering
  • WebMonk

    From the article Tom links – this is awesome:

    MILES O’BRIEN: Let’s do Presidential Rhyme Time for $200, please.
    MAN: Here we go.
    Barack’s Andean pack animals.
    Watson.

    WATSON: What is Obama’s llamas?

    Now THAT is impressive! Multiple external references affecting the intent of the answer provided to Watson, good determination of terms associated with “Barak” and “Andean pack animals” as well as the association and distinction between them, and then a phoneme comparison for rhyming sounds.

  • WebMonk

    From the article Tom links – this is awesome:

    MILES O’BRIEN: Let’s do Presidential Rhyme Time for $200, please.
    MAN: Here we go.
    Barack’s Andean pack animals.
    Watson.

    WATSON: What is Obama’s llamas?

    Now THAT is impressive! Multiple external references affecting the intent of the answer provided to Watson, good determination of terms associated with “Barak” and “Andean pack animals” as well as the association and distinction between them, and then a phoneme comparison for rhyming sounds.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, Impressive? Hardly. This proves the idiocy of the computer. Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.

    All of this proves Joe Weizenbaum’s point back in the Seventies against Marvin Minsky that M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is essentially a fraud.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, Impressive? Hardly. This proves the idiocy of the computer. Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.

    All of this proves Joe Weizenbaum’s point back in the Seventies against Marvin Minsky that M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is essentially a fraud.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Huh. So a computer parsing a reasonably complex (if not somewhat non-sensical) human stimulus not only for semantic meaning, but also for the desired form of response, and combining that with a broad database of knowledge ranging from political history, zoology, and English-language rhyming … “proves the idiocy of the computer.” And also proves that “M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is essentially a fraud”. Because the computer was actually able to do all that.

    Which prompts the question: which AI lab is behind the programming of the PorcellBot, and why are they so jealous all of a sudden?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Huh. So a computer parsing a reasonably complex (if not somewhat non-sensical) human stimulus not only for semantic meaning, but also for the desired form of response, and combining that with a broad database of knowledge ranging from political history, zoology, and English-language rhyming … “proves the idiocy of the computer.” And also proves that “M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is essentially a fraud”. Because the computer was actually able to do all that.

    Which prompts the question: which AI lab is behind the programming of the PorcellBot, and why are they so jealous all of a sudden?

  • trotk

    Peter, given that the category was “Presidential Rhyme Time,” I think associating Obama with llamas makes perfect sense. Hardly idiotic.

    On another note, I fail to see the fuss about this, just as I fail to see the fuss about Deep Blue. The computers are, after all, created and programmed by people. The knowledge and inferences they exhibit and make are human knowledge and inferences. Big deal. We have made machines that exceed the capacities of humans (let alone of one human) numerous times, but until we cause them to do something other than mimic natural life or cause them to be self-aware, whoop-dee-doo.

  • trotk

    Peter, given that the category was “Presidential Rhyme Time,” I think associating Obama with llamas makes perfect sense. Hardly idiotic.

    On another note, I fail to see the fuss about this, just as I fail to see the fuss about Deep Blue. The computers are, after all, created and programmed by people. The knowledge and inferences they exhibit and make are human knowledge and inferences. Big deal. We have made machines that exceed the capacities of humans (let alone of one human) numerous times, but until we cause them to do something other than mimic natural life or cause them to be self-aware, whoop-dee-doo.

  • Porcell

    Todd, should you wish to join this conversation, you need to respond to #10 in which I argued that the computer hardly approximates the five habits of thought that Aristotle identified. Otherwise, you hardly know what you’re talking about.

    The computer, as Joe Weizenbaum of MIT, argued back in the 1970′s lacks any semblance of serious thought.

  • Porcell

    Todd, should you wish to join this conversation, you need to respond to #10 in which I argued that the computer hardly approximates the five habits of thought that Aristotle identified. Otherwise, you hardly know what you’re talking about.

    The computer, as Joe Weizenbaum of MIT, argued back in the 1970′s lacks any semblance of serious thought.

  • trotk

    Peter, quoting an acquaintance (friend?) that you heard speak in Berlin won’t convince tODD (or anyone else); give up the argument from authority – it only hurts your voice here.

    On the other hand, your point at 10 is worth discussing, because computers should not be confused with the complexity and richness of the human mind. I don’t think anyone is actually doing that here, though. No one here seems to think that computers have wisdom.

    But I don’t think you can demand that tODD answer you at 10, because you did make another point at 17, and I’ve never heard a rule of conversation that demands that every previous point must be addressed before someone addresses the last point.

  • trotk

    Peter, quoting an acquaintance (friend?) that you heard speak in Berlin won’t convince tODD (or anyone else); give up the argument from authority – it only hurts your voice here.

    On the other hand, your point at 10 is worth discussing, because computers should not be confused with the complexity and richness of the human mind. I don’t think anyone is actually doing that here, though. No one here seems to think that computers have wisdom.

    But I don’t think you can demand that tODD answer you at 10, because you did make another point at 17, and I’ve never heard a rule of conversation that demands that every previous point must be addressed before someone addresses the last point.

  • collie

    Hey, Watson thinks Toronto is a U.S. city. Silly computer!

  • collie

    Hey, Watson thinks Toronto is a U.S. city. Silly computer!

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    When I was in high school, I liked writing programs that would appear to engage in conversations. Unlike the famous Eliza program, I didn’t insist that my program always make sense. Which meant I could just aim for fun guesses. I would look for sentences with “you are” in them and assume they were insults, and reconfigure them for the response. These got more complex over time. Sometimes the results were just plain uncanny. But since I had written the code, I knew that there was no true understanding behind it. More like answering strategies. Which I think we saw a lot of on the show. I do think there are machines out there that come close to having something approaching episteme. But Watson doesn’t. Watson seems to be a good language juggler, from what I saw. Some of the language comes from the question, and some from Watson’s memory. But I wouldn’t call those answering strategies understanding.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    When I was in high school, I liked writing programs that would appear to engage in conversations. Unlike the famous Eliza program, I didn’t insist that my program always make sense. Which meant I could just aim for fun guesses. I would look for sentences with “you are” in them and assume they were insults, and reconfigure them for the response. These got more complex over time. Sometimes the results were just plain uncanny. But since I had written the code, I knew that there was no true understanding behind it. More like answering strategies. Which I think we saw a lot of on the show. I do think there are machines out there that come close to having something approaching episteme. But Watson doesn’t. Watson seems to be a good language juggler, from what I saw. Some of the language comes from the question, and some from Watson’s memory. But I wouldn’t call those answering strategies understanding.

  • WebMonk

    @17 “Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.”

    Huh? That was the entire point of the question – come up with the rhyme between the word “Obama” and “llama” based on the answer given. Are you saying any moderately well informed person would have gotten the question wrong? You’re busting the computer’s chops for getting the question right???

  • WebMonk

    @17 “Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.”

    Huh? That was the entire point of the question – come up with the rhyme between the word “Obama” and “llama” based on the answer given. Are you saying any moderately well informed person would have gotten the question wrong? You’re busting the computer’s chops for getting the question right???

  • WebMonk

    Rick, I don’t think anyone is calling Watson artificial consciousness. It was specifically designed to accomplish a particular set of tasks, and it does them extremely well.

    One of the fun parts is that it is doing what thirty years ago was predicted that only “artificial intelligence” (meaning consciousness) could do. It’s one of the standard failures of prognosticators to fail to foresee novel ways in which things are accomplished.

  • WebMonk

    Rick, I don’t think anyone is calling Watson artificial consciousness. It was specifically designed to accomplish a particular set of tasks, and it does them extremely well.

    One of the fun parts is that it is doing what thirty years ago was predicted that only “artificial intelligence” (meaning consciousness) could do. It’s one of the standard failures of prognosticators to fail to foresee novel ways in which things are accomplished.

  • steve

    I’ll go out on a limb and say “artificial intelligence”, at least as commonly understood, is a fraud in the same sense that human intelligence is a fraud. Computers, like brains, are only capable of what they’re developed to be capable of. That is, the capabilities of both are predefined and finite. Since the source of all intelligence is God, everything else simply functions as designed.

    I’ll also go out on a limb and say that God’s design of intelligent entities is infinitely more efficient than man’s.

  • steve

    I’ll go out on a limb and say “artificial intelligence”, at least as commonly understood, is a fraud in the same sense that human intelligence is a fraud. Computers, like brains, are only capable of what they’re developed to be capable of. That is, the capabilities of both are predefined and finite. Since the source of all intelligence is God, everything else simply functions as designed.

    I’ll also go out on a limb and say that God’s design of intelligent entities is infinitely more efficient than man’s.

  • WebMonk

    Steve – that’s generally why I put artificial intelligence in quotes above along with an explanation in parenthesis afterward – “artificial intelligence” is a slippery term when you start getting into the nitty-gritty of what it means.

    Typically, I’ve found most casual usages tend to mean it as another term for a computer with self-consciousness – hence various statements about how AI can’t exist because it can’t do XYZ that involves self-consciousness.

    AI is a much different than self-consciousness, though, so it typically needs a few qualifiers to say what it actually is (or isn’t) in casual conversations.

  • WebMonk

    Steve – that’s generally why I put artificial intelligence in quotes above along with an explanation in parenthesis afterward – “artificial intelligence” is a slippery term when you start getting into the nitty-gritty of what it means.

    Typically, I’ve found most casual usages tend to mean it as another term for a computer with self-consciousness – hence various statements about how AI can’t exist because it can’t do XYZ that involves self-consciousness.

    AI is a much different than self-consciousness, though, so it typically needs a few qualifiers to say what it actually is (or isn’t) in casual conversations.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@20), keep in mind that you’ve already revealed the depth of your knowledge when it comes to computers in past conversations. We know you’re in over your head here, so obvious bluffing like “you hardly know what you’re talking about” (@20) is kind of risible. Yes, yes, you read this one book several decades ago by this guy you know. I know. It’s how you became an expert on everything. Still.

    As Trotk pointed out (@19), nobody is disputing — or discussing — your earlier claims (@10). “Artificial prudence” is not a term anyone has coined, nor do I see anyone clamoring to do so. That doesn’t mean your derision (@17) towards this accomplishment as somehow “proving the idiocy of the computer” makes any more sense. Frankly, I think Watson better understood the Obama-llama question than you did. And you just sound bitter about that.

    Trotk (@19) said:

    The computers are, after all, created and programmed by people. The knowledge and inferences they exhibit and make are human knowledge and inferences. Big deal. We have made machines that exceed the capacities of humans (let alone of one human) numerous times, but until we cause them to do something other than mimic natural life or cause them to be self-aware, whoop-dee-doo.

    Which is surprising, as it seems to be saying that, should we create a computer that was merely a complete recreation of the human brain, you wouldn’t be impressed. I mean, we’re nowhere near that close, and I doubt we ever will be (though we may approach it asymptotically), but still. “Mimicking natural life” earns a “whoop-dee-doo” from you? Really?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@20), keep in mind that you’ve already revealed the depth of your knowledge when it comes to computers in past conversations. We know you’re in over your head here, so obvious bluffing like “you hardly know what you’re talking about” (@20) is kind of risible. Yes, yes, you read this one book several decades ago by this guy you know. I know. It’s how you became an expert on everything. Still.

    As Trotk pointed out (@19), nobody is disputing — or discussing — your earlier claims (@10). “Artificial prudence” is not a term anyone has coined, nor do I see anyone clamoring to do so. That doesn’t mean your derision (@17) towards this accomplishment as somehow “proving the idiocy of the computer” makes any more sense. Frankly, I think Watson better understood the Obama-llama question than you did. And you just sound bitter about that.

    Trotk (@19) said:

    The computers are, after all, created and programmed by people. The knowledge and inferences they exhibit and make are human knowledge and inferences. Big deal. We have made machines that exceed the capacities of humans (let alone of one human) numerous times, but until we cause them to do something other than mimic natural life or cause them to be self-aware, whoop-dee-doo.

    Which is surprising, as it seems to be saying that, should we create a computer that was merely a complete recreation of the human brain, you wouldn’t be impressed. I mean, we’re nowhere near that close, and I doubt we ever will be (though we may approach it asymptotically), but still. “Mimicking natural life” earns a “whoop-dee-doo” from you? Really?

  • Porcell

    Todd, prudence, wisdom, innate knowledge, science in the broad sense of understanding and insight, and wisdom are habits or qualities of mind much more important than answering such a trivial matter as the Obama/llama question. The sort of questions asked on Jeopardy have to do with low-level information as opposed to high-level understanding or judgment. In my field of work, it has become increasingly clear that quantitative computer investment strategy is dangerously flawed.

    Weizenbaum’s point in Computers and Human Reason that human choice requires the sort, judgment, wisdom, and sometimes compassion that no computer calculation could ever make is as valid today as when it was written. I’m rather sure that Weizenbaum would be unimpressed, though amused, at “Watson.”

  • Porcell

    Todd, prudence, wisdom, innate knowledge, science in the broad sense of understanding and insight, and wisdom are habits or qualities of mind much more important than answering such a trivial matter as the Obama/llama question. The sort of questions asked on Jeopardy have to do with low-level information as opposed to high-level understanding or judgment. In my field of work, it has become increasingly clear that quantitative computer investment strategy is dangerously flawed.

    Weizenbaum’s point in Computers and Human Reason that human choice requires the sort, judgment, wisdom, and sometimes compassion that no computer calculation could ever make is as valid today as when it was written. I’m rather sure that Weizenbaum would be unimpressed, though amused, at “Watson.”

  • trotk

    tODD, the reasons for my whoop-dee-doo are two:

    1. I don’t think that this says anything about the superiority of computers over people, and this is the way it is portrayed in much of the media. “Humans are inferior to machines!!!!!” Really, all this means is that a group of people used tools to beat another person. But you probably would agree with this point.

    2. The second point (and this is where we would probably disagree) is that I find machines interesting (sometimes really interesting) but of little meaningful consequence. Most machines create nothing other than the ability to produce and buy more, which I don’t view as a good thing. Materialism distracts from real life and becomes an idol. The abilities to move faster and tame the environment more effectively separate families, make us believe we are gods, and make wars more deadly. The best uses of machines (feeding the hungry and healing the sick) don’t solve those problems (although they do alleviate them, which is good), and they may be causing as many evils as they fix. Pesticides => more food, but worse health; more food => more obesity; less exposure to death => more reliance on the material world; and so on.

  • trotk

    tODD, the reasons for my whoop-dee-doo are two:

    1. I don’t think that this says anything about the superiority of computers over people, and this is the way it is portrayed in much of the media. “Humans are inferior to machines!!!!!” Really, all this means is that a group of people used tools to beat another person. But you probably would agree with this point.

    2. The second point (and this is where we would probably disagree) is that I find machines interesting (sometimes really interesting) but of little meaningful consequence. Most machines create nothing other than the ability to produce and buy more, which I don’t view as a good thing. Materialism distracts from real life and becomes an idol. The abilities to move faster and tame the environment more effectively separate families, make us believe we are gods, and make wars more deadly. The best uses of machines (feeding the hungry and healing the sick) don’t solve those problems (although they do alleviate them, which is good), and they may be causing as many evils as they fix. Pesticides => more food, but worse health; more food => more obesity; less exposure to death => more reliance on the material world; and so on.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    WebMonk, I didn’t use the word ‘consciousness’ in my post or intend to address it. I think that there is a possibility of an intelligent machine that is not conscious. Some may currently exist. I don’t think Watson is one of them. This has to do with the relationship of the machine to the information. If the machine gathers its own information through experience, I’ll call that knowledge. Human also gather information through language, but they are able to relate the information to experience. A machine that has not experienced anything has no knowledge. And again, I’m not talking about consciousness.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    WebMonk, I didn’t use the word ‘consciousness’ in my post or intend to address it. I think that there is a possibility of an intelligent machine that is not conscious. Some may currently exist. I don’t think Watson is one of them. This has to do with the relationship of the machine to the information. If the machine gathers its own information through experience, I’ll call that knowledge. Human also gather information through language, but they are able to relate the information to experience. A machine that has not experienced anything has no knowledge. And again, I’m not talking about consciousness.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@29), once more, you are making points about computers and prudence, wisdom, etc. that no one is discussing, much less disputing. Yours is the equivalent of commenting, upon seeing man land on the moon, that, “Well, mankind has yet to travel light years to distant galaxies, so space travel is pure idiocy.”

    “The sort of questions asked on Jeopardy have to do with low-level information as opposed to high-level understanding or judgment.” Yeah, you’re just still bitter you didn’t understand the question and Watson did, aren’t you?

    Trotk (@30), we agree for the most part — on both points, even, though I think you continue to underestimate the good aspects of modern technology (such as our discussions here that would otherwise not occur; feel free to disagree on this point ;) ). That said, I think your second point merely boils down to the argument, discussed elsewhere to some degree, that our tools change us. This is true, and always has been. It is also, I would argue, inevitable.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@29), once more, you are making points about computers and prudence, wisdom, etc. that no one is discussing, much less disputing. Yours is the equivalent of commenting, upon seeing man land on the moon, that, “Well, mankind has yet to travel light years to distant galaxies, so space travel is pure idiocy.”

    “The sort of questions asked on Jeopardy have to do with low-level information as opposed to high-level understanding or judgment.” Yeah, you’re just still bitter you didn’t understand the question and Watson did, aren’t you?

    Trotk (@30), we agree for the most part — on both points, even, though I think you continue to underestimate the good aspects of modern technology (such as our discussions here that would otherwise not occur; feel free to disagree on this point ;) ). That said, I think your second point merely boils down to the argument, discussed elsewhere to some degree, that our tools change us. This is true, and always has been. It is also, I would argue, inevitable.

  • trotk

    I will always be defeated by the fact that we are conversing over computers, tODD. And so you will always be proven correct, for my means are at odds with my stance. (If I could put an emoticon in, I would here).

    You are right that I am blind to the benefits of modern technology. I don’t really see them. If I had my way, I would revert to an agrarian world. I don’t believe that seeing knowledge as power or knowledge as useful has been good for our souls. Instead, I want to be in a world that values truth for its own sake. I want us to seek to conform ourselves to reality, not reality to ourselves (this is what machines are about). I reject arguments about the utility of knowledge, not because knowledge isn’t useful, but instead because these arguments lead to small souls.

    As for our tools changing us, I completely agree, but I see the change as bad, because our tools teach us to make ourselves gods, not stewards and servants.

  • trotk

    I will always be defeated by the fact that we are conversing over computers, tODD. And so you will always be proven correct, for my means are at odds with my stance. (If I could put an emoticon in, I would here).

    You are right that I am blind to the benefits of modern technology. I don’t really see them. If I had my way, I would revert to an agrarian world. I don’t believe that seeing knowledge as power or knowledge as useful has been good for our souls. Instead, I want to be in a world that values truth for its own sake. I want us to seek to conform ourselves to reality, not reality to ourselves (this is what machines are about). I reject arguments about the utility of knowledge, not because knowledge isn’t useful, but instead because these arguments lead to small souls.

    As for our tools changing us, I completely agree, but I see the change as bad, because our tools teach us to make ourselves gods, not stewards and servants.

  • Porcell

    Todd, Yeah, you’re just still bitter you didn’t understand the question and Watson did, aren’t you?

    Actually, I couldn’t care less about the question. I don’t watch any Jeopardy shows, as they simply don’t interest me, notwithstanding your crude, arrogant attempt at mind-reading. Who do think you are that you can gauge what’s going on in an other person’s mind. Your gauche style appears to be ubiquitous.

    Since claims are being made that the computer is gradually approximating the richness and complexity of mind, the habits or qualities of mind that Aristotle identified are quite relevant to this discussion.

    Another point is that conflating a game with science is dubious, as the following excerpt from a brief article A Watson Victory? This is About a Contest, Not Science

    MIT Professor Henry Lieberman writes that contests can be detrimental to science:

    In the past few years, there’s been a fad for contests, “challenges,” “grand prizes,” etc. in scientific and engineering fields. I have no objection if it’s only good, clean fun between consenting adults. But on the whole, I think this fad has been detrimental to science. Contests encourage competitive attitudes and secrecy between contestants. They focus people on incremental progress in very specialized areas, for one-shot tests. Science needs exactly the opposite–collaboration between researchers, openness, a diversity of approaches and “out of the box” and long-term thinking. It needs the freedom to choose what problem to work on, rather than have it dictated by the arbitrary rules of the contest.

  • Porcell

    Todd, Yeah, you’re just still bitter you didn’t understand the question and Watson did, aren’t you?

    Actually, I couldn’t care less about the question. I don’t watch any Jeopardy shows, as they simply don’t interest me, notwithstanding your crude, arrogant attempt at mind-reading. Who do think you are that you can gauge what’s going on in an other person’s mind. Your gauche style appears to be ubiquitous.

    Since claims are being made that the computer is gradually approximating the richness and complexity of mind, the habits or qualities of mind that Aristotle identified are quite relevant to this discussion.

    Another point is that conflating a game with science is dubious, as the following excerpt from a brief article A Watson Victory? This is About a Contest, Not Science

    MIT Professor Henry Lieberman writes that contests can be detrimental to science:

    In the past few years, there’s been a fad for contests, “challenges,” “grand prizes,” etc. in scientific and engineering fields. I have no objection if it’s only good, clean fun between consenting adults. But on the whole, I think this fad has been detrimental to science. Contests encourage competitive attitudes and secrecy between contestants. They focus people on incremental progress in very specialized areas, for one-shot tests. Science needs exactly the opposite–collaboration between researchers, openness, a diversity of approaches and “out of the box” and long-term thinking. It needs the freedom to choose what problem to work on, rather than have it dictated by the arbitrary rules of the contest.

  • Porcell

    Pardon the lack of quote cloture in the above.

  • Porcell

    Pardon the lack of quote cloture in the above.

  • WebMonk

    So 34, you’ve stated don’t care about the question, you don’t understand the question, and yet still deride Watson as an idiot for getting the question CORRECT while stating that any “moderately well informed” person would have gotten it wrong.

    “This proves the idiocy of the computer. Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.”

    And still you feel you have a command of what computers can or can’t do, how they can or can’t develop, or in what ways they may or may not be used in the future, all based on some quotes by Weizenbaum’s book from 30+ years ago which is a good book but has some obviously flawed parts.

    I truly do stand in awe of you.

  • WebMonk

    So 34, you’ve stated don’t care about the question, you don’t understand the question, and yet still deride Watson as an idiot for getting the question CORRECT while stating that any “moderately well informed” person would have gotten it wrong.

    “This proves the idiocy of the computer. Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.”

    And still you feel you have a command of what computers can or can’t do, how they can or can’t develop, or in what ways they may or may not be used in the future, all based on some quotes by Weizenbaum’s book from 30+ years ago which is a good book but has some obviously flawed parts.

    I truly do stand in awe of you.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, I’ve not on this thread derided Watson for getting the question right; I simply regard it as a limited achievement.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, I’ve not on this thread derided Watson for getting the question right; I simply regard it as a limited achievement.

  • WebMonk

    “This [getting the question right] proves the idiocy of the computer. Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.” [thus get the question wrong]

    Uh huh.

  • WebMonk

    “This [getting the question right] proves the idiocy of the computer. Any moderately well informed person would not associate Barack Obama with llamas.” [thus get the question wrong]

    Uh huh.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, exactly what are the “obvious” flaws in Prof. Weizenbaum’s argument advanced in Computers and Human Reason.

  • Porcell

    WebMonk, exactly what are the “obvious” flaws in Prof. Weizenbaum’s argument advanced in Computers and Human Reason.

  • WebMonk

    We covered this already. I listed three or four big predictions that he got blatantly wrong. You conveniently never commented again on that thread.

    Huh, sort of like you continue to ignore how you yet again got things entirely backwards about Watson get a question right, but saying getting the answer correct just demonstrates Watson’s idiocy and that any other reasonably informed person would have gotten it wrong.

  • WebMonk

    We covered this already. I listed three or four big predictions that he got blatantly wrong. You conveniently never commented again on that thread.

    Huh, sort of like you continue to ignore how you yet again got things entirely backwards about Watson get a question right, but saying getting the answer correct just demonstrates Watson’s idiocy and that any other reasonably informed person would have gotten it wrong.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@33), you sound like a gnostic, except instead of eschewing the material in favor of the spiritual, you merely decry anything technological — indeed, any tool — as being evil.

    “If I had my way, I would revert to an agrarian world,” you say, and yet, what was different in this regard back in the Good Old Days? There were still tools, and sinful man still imagined these tools gave him power. Is there truly a fundamental difference between the power to plow your field more efficiently and any technological power you so readily decry as soul-shrinking?

    I think you’re romanticizing the past without addressing the fundamental problem. Which isn’t technology or tools, but the people using them.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@33), you sound like a gnostic, except instead of eschewing the material in favor of the spiritual, you merely decry anything technological — indeed, any tool — as being evil.

    “If I had my way, I would revert to an agrarian world,” you say, and yet, what was different in this regard back in the Good Old Days? There were still tools, and sinful man still imagined these tools gave him power. Is there truly a fundamental difference between the power to plow your field more efficiently and any technological power you so readily decry as soul-shrinking?

    I think you’re romanticizing the past without addressing the fundamental problem. Which isn’t technology or tools, but the people using them.

  • trotk

    tODD, it isn’t that I think of all tools as evil. But as we have all acknowledged, our tools change us. Some change us far more rapidly than others. The more powerful a tool, the faster it changes us – this is what unnerves me.

    My question for any tool would be, “what does this cause man to believe he is?”

    I know that a plow gives man power over the earth, but it does not cause him to believe he controls the earth. The combination of tools now used (tractor + fertilizer + irrigation) makes man believe he is in control of the earth, and this is a bad thing. We forget good when knowledge becomes only a means to achieve power. That was the temptation of the devil (“you will be like God…”).

    The difference between a wagon and a car is not quantitative – it is qualitative. One makes man believe he is a steward and the other a god. If you pressed me on what the dividing line is (although I think that we can see it usually), I would probably refer you back to the question of how it makes man view himself. There are also plenty of clues or indicators along the way (environmental consequences, noise produced, etc). I would challenge your assumption that technology is all equal. Its effect on man is not equal (compare sword to nuclear weapon). Its effect on environment is not equal. Its means of power is not equal (horse vs. diesel). Its purpose is not equal (provide for family vs. make money/conquer/be god). I could go on, but you get the point.

    You are correct that the problem is man, and this is why I don’t want tools that hide that problem (by giving unearthly power) and distract (these are our tools for entertainment) man from the problem, which is his sin and poverty before God. The Golden Age didn’t exist, but I can still wish that we were rid of what I see on a daily basis as damaging the students that I work with, because they believe that they are learning to increase their power and amusement, rather than to be conformed to truth.

  • trotk

    tODD, it isn’t that I think of all tools as evil. But as we have all acknowledged, our tools change us. Some change us far more rapidly than others. The more powerful a tool, the faster it changes us – this is what unnerves me.

    My question for any tool would be, “what does this cause man to believe he is?”

    I know that a plow gives man power over the earth, but it does not cause him to believe he controls the earth. The combination of tools now used (tractor + fertilizer + irrigation) makes man believe he is in control of the earth, and this is a bad thing. We forget good when knowledge becomes only a means to achieve power. That was the temptation of the devil (“you will be like God…”).

    The difference between a wagon and a car is not quantitative – it is qualitative. One makes man believe he is a steward and the other a god. If you pressed me on what the dividing line is (although I think that we can see it usually), I would probably refer you back to the question of how it makes man view himself. There are also plenty of clues or indicators along the way (environmental consequences, noise produced, etc). I would challenge your assumption that technology is all equal. Its effect on man is not equal (compare sword to nuclear weapon). Its effect on environment is not equal. Its means of power is not equal (horse vs. diesel). Its purpose is not equal (provide for family vs. make money/conquer/be god). I could go on, but you get the point.

    You are correct that the problem is man, and this is why I don’t want tools that hide that problem (by giving unearthly power) and distract (these are our tools for entertainment) man from the problem, which is his sin and poverty before God. The Golden Age didn’t exist, but I can still wish that we were rid of what I see on a daily basis as damaging the students that I work with, because they believe that they are learning to increase their power and amusement, rather than to be conformed to truth.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk said (@42), “I know that a plow gives man power over the earth, but it does not cause him to believe he controls the earth.” I’m sorry, but I still think you’re vastly underestimating the problem of man and when this problem began.

    It is very difficult for us to know with certainty how the introduction of the plow changed the way some or all people back then thought. We lack any contemporary accounts, obviously. But it is not hard to imagine a plow making man believe exactly what you said he didn’t. Imagine it. You and your tribe have been hunting and gathering for as long as you know. The earth provides food, though you don’t know how. You only have a reasonable idea of where and when it will appear.

    And then, one day, there’s the plow, and agriculture, whether your tribe invented it, copied the idea, or stole it from some other tribe. Suddenly, food plants can grow where you want them (within reason)! And they can grow in amounts and proximity that would never occur naturally! You control the crops! You control nature!

    Again, every tool offers man at least the potential for this illusion. With sufficient clothing and building technology, we can live wherever we want — we are not limited to places that are warm and hospitable. And I am just limiting myself to very, very early tools! Back in the supposedly good ol’ agrarian days.

    Of course, I did say “the potential for this illusion”. Because I also believe that a tool or the use of a tool in no way guarantees that its user or benefactor will be fooled into thinking he controls nature or is otherwise God. I mean, I thoroughly enjoy modern medicine, but I know it’s a blessing from God, and still subject to his will. It’s not guaranteed to keep me living. But when you start blaming tools and technology, you also appear to call into question the faith of those using or embracing them. I am arguing that these — the use of tools and one’s view of man and God — are orthogonal.

    “The difference between a wagon and a car is not quantitative – it is qualitative. One makes man believe he is a steward and the other a god.” I’m sorry, but I don’t understand, in part because I’m not sure what type of wagon you’re referring to. Can you explain this statement further?

    “Its effect on man is not equal (compare sword to nuclear weapon).” Well, again, it depends on the framing. Both the sword and the nuclear weapon could be abused by man, causing him to think that determining man’s life span is now in his hands, not God’s. In that sense, they are equal. Of course, the average nuclear weapon has killed or might kill more than the average sword, but that is solely a question of degree. (I would also add that it is far easier to wield a sword mortally than a nuclear weapon, so … pluses and minuses.)

    Still, as you acknowledge, mankind has since the beginning been tempted to think he is God. “I can still wish that we were rid of what I see on a daily basis as damaging the students that I work with.” Of course, but that is sin, not technology. There is no time you could go back to where people were not using tools to (try to) master their environment, as well as trying to entertain themselves. Sorry.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk said (@42), “I know that a plow gives man power over the earth, but it does not cause him to believe he controls the earth.” I’m sorry, but I still think you’re vastly underestimating the problem of man and when this problem began.

    It is very difficult for us to know with certainty how the introduction of the plow changed the way some or all people back then thought. We lack any contemporary accounts, obviously. But it is not hard to imagine a plow making man believe exactly what you said he didn’t. Imagine it. You and your tribe have been hunting and gathering for as long as you know. The earth provides food, though you don’t know how. You only have a reasonable idea of where and when it will appear.

    And then, one day, there’s the plow, and agriculture, whether your tribe invented it, copied the idea, or stole it from some other tribe. Suddenly, food plants can grow where you want them (within reason)! And they can grow in amounts and proximity that would never occur naturally! You control the crops! You control nature!

    Again, every tool offers man at least the potential for this illusion. With sufficient clothing and building technology, we can live wherever we want — we are not limited to places that are warm and hospitable. And I am just limiting myself to very, very early tools! Back in the supposedly good ol’ agrarian days.

    Of course, I did say “the potential for this illusion”. Because I also believe that a tool or the use of a tool in no way guarantees that its user or benefactor will be fooled into thinking he controls nature or is otherwise God. I mean, I thoroughly enjoy modern medicine, but I know it’s a blessing from God, and still subject to his will. It’s not guaranteed to keep me living. But when you start blaming tools and technology, you also appear to call into question the faith of those using or embracing them. I am arguing that these — the use of tools and one’s view of man and God — are orthogonal.

    “The difference between a wagon and a car is not quantitative – it is qualitative. One makes man believe he is a steward and the other a god.” I’m sorry, but I don’t understand, in part because I’m not sure what type of wagon you’re referring to. Can you explain this statement further?

    “Its effect on man is not equal (compare sword to nuclear weapon).” Well, again, it depends on the framing. Both the sword and the nuclear weapon could be abused by man, causing him to think that determining man’s life span is now in his hands, not God’s. In that sense, they are equal. Of course, the average nuclear weapon has killed or might kill more than the average sword, but that is solely a question of degree. (I would also add that it is far easier to wield a sword mortally than a nuclear weapon, so … pluses and minuses.)

    Still, as you acknowledge, mankind has since the beginning been tempted to think he is God. “I can still wish that we were rid of what I see on a daily basis as damaging the students that I work with.” Of course, but that is sin, not technology. There is no time you could go back to where people were not using tools to (try to) master their environment, as well as trying to entertain themselves. Sorry.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    “I can still wish that we were rid of what I see on a daily basis as damaging the students that I work with.” Of course, but that is sin, not technology.

    Following Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman asked a lot of questions about technology in education. He began by asking about grading as a technology. I think his questions are good. There are some technologies that do destroy when they are supposed to help. This happens when we receive them without questions. I think there are certain tools so destructive of some ends that they ought to be abolished. I say this having no view of any golden age. Nor do I wish to turn back the clock in to any specifiable date. But the fact that many of learning tools are counterproductive is not an idiosyncratic viewpoint held only by trotk. If I am not mistaken, his position is common (though not common enough) among educators.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    “I can still wish that we were rid of what I see on a daily basis as damaging the students that I work with.” Of course, but that is sin, not technology.

    Following Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman asked a lot of questions about technology in education. He began by asking about grading as a technology. I think his questions are good. There are some technologies that do destroy when they are supposed to help. This happens when we receive them without questions. I think there are certain tools so destructive of some ends that they ought to be abolished. I say this having no view of any golden age. Nor do I wish to turn back the clock in to any specifiable date. But the fact that many of learning tools are counterproductive is not an idiosyncratic viewpoint held only by trotk. If I am not mistaken, his position is common (though not common enough) among educators.

  • WebMonk

    Good example Rich of how any tool, no matter how “advanced” or “old” can destroy – grading is certainly not a modern technological achievement. It’s the proper use of a tool and using the tool where appropriate that makes the difference.

    It is eminently possible (even probable) that computers ought not be used in classrooms nearly as much as they are today, or at least ought not be used in the manner in which they are used today.

  • WebMonk

    Good example Rich of how any tool, no matter how “advanced” or “old” can destroy – grading is certainly not a modern technological achievement. It’s the proper use of a tool and using the tool where appropriate that makes the difference.

    It is eminently possible (even probable) that computers ought not be used in classrooms nearly as much as they are today, or at least ought not be used in the manner in which they are used today.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    “It’s the proper use of a tool and using the tool where appropriate that makes the difference.”

    Right. Though I’m going to go a little further here. I think there are times when we seem to use them inappropriately in systematic fashion. Education is such a field. Few have even taken a survey course on what Education has been through time in various cultures. When you do, you find that we have become fixated on one model, and are always tinkering with it trying to fix it. Even if it were working well, I think our level of commitment to it would be unwarranted.

    On another note, Marshall McLuhan’s “quadrant” offered a series of questions to ask of any technology. What I like about the questions is that they tend to bring to mind both advantages and disadvantages of any new tool. In addition to asking what the new tool will make obsolete, it will ask what the new tool will bring back that has been lost. My Kindle, for instance, makes available thousands of books published over a century ago.

    Postman’s book Technopoly explains how we’ve gotten to where we’re living in a world where our tools tend to use us rather than the other way around. His case convinced me that it is wrong to make this sound as if the only thing that is needed is a little insight in the individual tool-user. We face something much bigger.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    “It’s the proper use of a tool and using the tool where appropriate that makes the difference.”

    Right. Though I’m going to go a little further here. I think there are times when we seem to use them inappropriately in systematic fashion. Education is such a field. Few have even taken a survey course on what Education has been through time in various cultures. When you do, you find that we have become fixated on one model, and are always tinkering with it trying to fix it. Even if it were working well, I think our level of commitment to it would be unwarranted.

    On another note, Marshall McLuhan’s “quadrant” offered a series of questions to ask of any technology. What I like about the questions is that they tend to bring to mind both advantages and disadvantages of any new tool. In addition to asking what the new tool will make obsolete, it will ask what the new tool will bring back that has been lost. My Kindle, for instance, makes available thousands of books published over a century ago.

    Postman’s book Technopoly explains how we’ve gotten to where we’re living in a world where our tools tend to use us rather than the other way around. His case convinced me that it is wrong to make this sound as if the only thing that is needed is a little insight in the individual tool-user. We face something much bigger.

  • WebMonk

    I read Technopoly and was thoroughly unimpressed. Postman gets (mostly) wrong the way in which people are affected by technology in the larger culture. As we’ve passed 17 years from when his book came out, we see larger and larger diversions from what he predicted, at least in the world at large.

    I think he nailed a lot of his views in the intersection of education and technology, and many/most of these seem to be continuing to be shown to be accurate, but where he makes extrapolations or statements about technology and the larger American culture, I think he gets it very seriously wrong. He treats the entire culture like a bunch of school kids in a classroom.

    Where he touched on medical technological changes, he takes an extremely limited view of some very narrow aspects of medical practice, and completely ignores the larger picture.

    And, he seems to make the assumption that the entire world is like American stereotypes. The American-stereotype culture he uses (even if it were accurate) is a minority part of the global collection of cultures and while it influences the rest of the world, those influences aren’t just to transform other cultures into America-lite, and especially not to transform them into how he apparently thought technology and American culture interact.

  • WebMonk

    I read Technopoly and was thoroughly unimpressed. Postman gets (mostly) wrong the way in which people are affected by technology in the larger culture. As we’ve passed 17 years from when his book came out, we see larger and larger diversions from what he predicted, at least in the world at large.

    I think he nailed a lot of his views in the intersection of education and technology, and many/most of these seem to be continuing to be shown to be accurate, but where he makes extrapolations or statements about technology and the larger American culture, I think he gets it very seriously wrong. He treats the entire culture like a bunch of school kids in a classroom.

    Where he touched on medical technological changes, he takes an extremely limited view of some very narrow aspects of medical practice, and completely ignores the larger picture.

    And, he seems to make the assumption that the entire world is like American stereotypes. The American-stereotype culture he uses (even if it were accurate) is a minority part of the global collection of cultures and while it influences the rest of the world, those influences aren’t just to transform other cultures into America-lite, and especially not to transform them into how he apparently thought technology and American culture interact.


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