19.478 the present future of computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2005 06:55:19 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 478.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 06 Dec 2005 06:42:56 +0000
         From: "Ken Cousins" <kcousins_at_gvpt.umd.edu>
         Subject: Re: 19.446 the present future of computing

Willard, thanks much for passing along the reference. I wholeheartedly
agree. While I don't know what impact talking toasters (or other nascent
applications) may ultimately have, it is clear that the increased
availability (and mutability) of text has made it possible to
drastically change the scope and scale of scholarly effort.

Word processors are one thing; add to these the functionality of
citation management software, Internet-distribution of academic (and
other) texts, scanning, OCR, and full-text desktop search engines...
I've only been consciously using these tools for the past 4-5 years, and
they've already transformed the way I approach writing. On the research
side, I've not only been able to acquire primary and secondary texts
from distant sources, but using computing tools (to address a
substantially larger corpus than was tractible before) have found
non-trivial and unexpected patterns of language use that have helped to
illuminate other research questions. Perhaps more importantly, the
increased availability that electronic formats provide have facilitated
a degree of transparency that I believe greatly strengthens my
conclusions, both qualitative and quantitative.

In other words, the impacts have been both liberating and grounding.
While I am quite mindful of the limitations of these tools (e.g.,
streetlamp effect), I've found a huge variety of fascinating puzzles
within those constraints, which computing (and other IT tools) greatly
improves my ability to address systematically and transparently.

Engelbart was right.


Ken Cousins
Harrison Program on the Future Global Agenda
Department of Government and Politics
3114 P Tydings Hall
University of Maryland, College Park
T: (301) 405-6862
F: (301) 314-9690


"The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
         Albert Einstein

>From Bob Frankston, "Beyond Limits", in Beyond Calculation: The Next
Fifty Years of Computing, ed. Denning and Metcalfe (New York:
Copernicus, 1997), p. 44:

"The pace of change is limited only by our ability to innovate. This
pace has been accelerating because the computer itself is our key tool.
As we improve computers, we increase our ability to improve them....
The computer itself will 'disappear into the woodwork'. Our challenge is
to learn how to master this new arena -- one in which we are not writing
programs but adding intelligence to everything around us. The limit is
our ability to manage complexity. It is a world in which resiliency is
more important than perfection."
Received on Tue Dec 06 2005 - 02:15:31 EST

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