Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Humans and Machines

Originally posted on April 14, 2011

I want to consider the idea of humans and machines: I don’t want to be too quick to dismiss the value of machines—they are tools that extend human potentials. That in many ways our society is infused with machines, computers, robots, etc. is not the problem—nor that it is likely to become more so. The problem is rather that humans can be both lazy and unimaginative, and tend to idolize their powerful creations. They vicariously enjoy and bask in expanded power. They feel that when "their" (favored) football team wins, that they themselves have won. (I call this a fractional role.  That means that psychologically we can play and enjoy only a small fraction of some roles, such as those we vicariously enjoy in watching sports or in the movies. We symbolically play the role of the hero—and sometimes we even enjoy the role of villain or the rescued helpless fair female, etc. We play a tenth or a twentieth of a role—we only extend our imaginations, not like getting up and fully participating. That’s why it’s a fractional role. To say it is illusory, though, would not recognize the reality that people do to some little degree participate, if only in their imaginations.)

Anyway, my friend Ed Hug said as a comment to my blog post #214, regarding the Machine replacing Man in evolution (roughly what Moreno framed as the tyranny of the cultural conserve): (Ed:) "I once heart Claude Shannon (father of "information theory") speak at M.I.T., saying (among many other things) that he thought the Machine would replace Man in evolution just as Man had replaced the Monkey. I (Ed) thought, at the time, "Hey, it is already happening: look at human beings that "choose" to live in high-rise bureaucratic architectures, function as if part of some larger Machine. As time goes on, we have only increased the Machine-like aspects of our civilization. The latest giant step in this direction was the Supreme Court’s "Citizen United vs Federal Election Commission (2010), making into law that "the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections." If you think of a corporation as a "Machine" (as I do), to equate Person and Machine is a gigantic step toward the Machine replacing Man in evolution (as Claude Shannon had foreseen).

Adam: Cleaning up old emails, I reconsidered this—also in light of the contest between computer (named Watson) and humans regarding the game show, Jeopardy, in which the computer often bested the experts—that humans differ from machines in their capacity to shift set, include other qualities like love, play, compassion, imagination — far beyond the capacity of any computer.  This capacity to shift set, to see frames of reference beyond what programs can see, makes a crucial difference! Mere cleverness will not outweigh true wisdom. Alas, many people can’t discern the difference.

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