Monday, April 16, 2007

"to think as no human brain has ever thought"

The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today
- Man-Computer Symbiosis by J. C. R. Licklider (1960)
Ron Baecker describes here how his career was inspired by Lick's initial vision.

47 years on from Lick's original insight, it's sad that many people in education still don't get it. Alan Kay says there has been no innovation in computer science for many years ("... most undergraduate degrees in computer science these days are basically Java vocational training"). I think we need to go back to when there was real innovation to rediscover the spirit of those times:
Licklider’s history suggests the influence of six interacting sources: Trained in psychology, math, and physics, Lick became an accomplished scientist and psychoacoustician. He interacted with and was in turn influenced by pioneering cognitive psychologists. He came under the influence of radical new ideas in cybernetics, information theory, and neuroscience being developed by amazing MIT mathematicians, scientists, and engineers ... In doing science, he was both experimenter and model builder, using analog computers and, by the 50s, digital computers to analyze data and build models. Today he would be described as a hacker
- Man-Computer Symbiosis by Ron Baecker

3 comments:

Artichoke said...

What we are missing is the need to study across disciplines - is a bit of an airplane read but I enjoyed The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures by Frans Johansson

What we are watching is a necessary result of that "fatal dislocation of subject" that R. N. Whitehead talked about - expertise in narrow domains will be the undoing of us.

Bill Kerr said...

A.N. Whitehead, arti?

"Whitehead understood perhaps more sharply than anyone else that the creative evolution of nature could never be conceived if the elements composing it were defined as permanent, individual entities that maintained their identity throughout all change and interaction. But he also understood that to make all permanence illusory, to deny being in the name of becoming, to reject entities in favour of a continuous and ever-changing flux meant falling once again into the trap always lying in wait for philosophy - "to indulge in brilliant feats of explaining away"

Thus for Whitehead the task of philosophy was to reconcile permanence and change, to conceive of things as processes, to demonstrate that becoming forms entities, individual identities that are born and die..."
Order out of Chaos , p 95

Whitehead sounds a bit like Hegel to me in that passage, someone who understands dialectics. Just as Licklider could see human and computer combining to produce something completely new, well before his time.

Wara said...

The key word in your post was 'hacker'. I think that we need to promote hacker mentality, hacker attitude, for innovation and creativity to prosper. Too much of our so called education is training, training how to use Adobe Photoshop rather than exploring tools and discovering interesting
possibilities and then sharing them. If you have any experience with teaching adults, the biggest hurdle is getting them to press the button because they have had all this time at school where the focus is on teaching them not to press the button. Schools lock down systems because it protects the system for getting that their core business is education. The technical presentation of
OLPC,
in the opening few minutes, recently reinforced that point for me.