Computer Says No

Another excellent Clive James piece in the BBC Magazine. I keep returning to HAL in 2001 as the archetype and so it seems does Clive.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen the man-machine interface problems long enough to recognize them – Turing’s enigma – but we still idolise “efficiency” over “care”. Spot on Clive.

I’ll add care to trust as the key ingredient of the information age – and yes even the inventor(s) of the semantic web understand that – explicitly (Fig 7). You can’t trust something that doesn’t care. You trust an automated system because of the people that create and support it, but that trust is a very ephemeral quality, easily lost by the slightest exception to the (nevertheless idolised) rules and re-built only by humans, with care.

Automate “customer care” at your peril. Indeed. Automation is simply the the latest idol. When I say latest I don’t mean recent either – back to the Luddites – but the possibility of ever more computerized automation makes our idolatry more psychologically engrained and perilous each human generation. I’m in the business of automation – but it is only a means to an end – to support individual humans – decision support.


Kevin Kelly talking on “The Technium” as he calls it – the “cosmic force” of technology running right through evolution. I probably wouldn’t use his language, but I do agree – the anthropic angle of the self-organizing drive is just that, our perspective, as “the species that domesticated itself” in order to exploit that (otherwise natural) drive. We don’t invent it or control it we manage to ride it as best we can in the best directions we can.

As well as the web becoming literally an organism in every sense of the word, and the real way that both genetic and memetic (human) resources are co-evolving, rather than the latter taking over from the former, I was particularly taken with this “tipping point” kind of conclusion ….

We technophiles are no longer defined by the technologies and gadgets we take up and use (though using is still the key process of developing understanding and of exploiting) …

We are now increasingly defined by the process of which technologies we choose NOT to adopt.

Dead right … inclusion may be as important as selection, but de-selection is still a fundamental part of the evolutionary process.

This must be closely related to my view that good communication is about what not to communicate, in these days of socially connected everything.

The Four Horsemen

Or “Ditchkins” as Eagleton would have them. Came across this (Part 2 of 10) because of the quote about …

“separating the numinous from the supernatural”

… on this Wikipedia page.

I was in fact trying to track down the Greek / Latin split in the etyomology of Numen / Noumena – both clearly about the transdendent, absolute, “divine” nature of things given by their “nodding” acquaintance with god(s), as opposed to empirical phenomena. (This is where we need “PIE” linguists rather than Kant.)

Interesting that “numinous” is seen as a concept worthy of understanding by these four. As noted many times, I am a serious fan of Dennett, have a lot of time for Harris, precious little for Dawkins and a recent admission to having underestimated Hitchens. (Commenting on a review of “God is not Great“. Overall impressions of the four reinforced by just 10 minutes of this conversation.) Looks like Parts 1 to 10 need to be reviewed. The plot thickens and the convergence continues.

Best of the Noughties

Endless lists as we approach 2010 – best books, films, of the decade etc.

Liked this collection of TV Ads from The Guardian. I’d forgetten about the frog in the Sony Bravia (Colour Balls) ad. Some classics in there. Cadbury’s Gorrilla / Drummer … it’s a spoiler after you’ve seen it once to know he’s sitting at the drum kit … what happened to the chocolate ? … but the ironies of the Phil Collins “moment” of anticipation are excellent.