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Twin Pages

Computer Power and Human Reason

02 Jul 2021 10:10 - 01 Jan 2022 07:48

    • book by Joseph Weizenbaum
    • This book was everywhere when I was at MIT in the late 1970s, but I don't know if I ever actually read it. I seem to be recapitulating some of its thinking, although I'm never going to join the resistance like Weizenbaum did.
    • He was not against computers or technology so much as we was against the reign of instrumental reason.
      • This book is only nominally about computers...the computer is used here merely as a vehicle for moving certain ideas that are much more important than computers...we have made the world too much into a computer, and that this remaking of the world in the image of the computer started long before there were any electronic computers....now that we have computers, it becomes somewhat easier to see this imaginative transformation we have worked on the world.
    • Various Weizenbaum/Minsky stories
      • From The Empathy Diaries
        • Programs, argued Weizenbaum, can be written to help machines make decisions. But only people have the capacity for moral choice. This is ultimately what makes us human. And human choice is the product of judgment, not calculation. It includes nonmathematical factors, such as emotions.
        • Then Weizenbaum made a leap that I hadn’t: It was therefore immoral to teach children to program. When he looked at the children Seymour [Papert] was teaching, Weizenbaum didn’t see the wonder of “powerful ideas.” He saw the spread of a dangerous way of thinking to the young and vulnerable. Programming served as a primer in instrumental reason, a form of rationality that focused on the most efficient means to achieve an end but did not reflect on the values of that end. The act of programming, said Weizenbaum, encouraged programmers to live in the closed world of the machine. Where Seymour saw computers as a privileged place to learn, Weizenbaum saw a place where you could forget other people and your emotional and moral responsibilities to them.