21.394 designing an intelligent system (natural)

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2007 08:34:27 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 394.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 05 Dec 2007 08:29:20 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: designing an intelligent system (natural)

In the Liber Amicorum, a festschrift for Prof.dr. H. Jaap van den
Herik published this year on the occasion of his 60th birthday, Don
Beal concludes his brief contribution, "Intelligent Systems,
Artificial and Natural", by drawing our attention to the notion of
collective intelligence. He notes that, "Human institutions vary in
the degree of collective intelligence they exhibit. Worthwhile though
they are, some human institutions perform mainly routine functions,
not requiring much collective intelligence, even though they may rely
heavily on intelligent staff within them in order to function" (pp.
3-4). He then turns to the contributions of the man honoured, Jaap
van den Herik, the most important of which, he says, "is Jaap's role
in that collective human intelligence that is the world's
universities. He has built intelligent systems, originally at Delft
and then at Maastricht, that delivered as their outputs dozens of
PhDs. These intelligent systems react to the humans who enter the
postgraduate program, provide their research needs, inform and guide
their research, and eventually accrete the graduate into humanity's
collective brain" (p. 4). The intelligence of these social systems,
Beal writes, "lies partly in the individual intelligences of the
peoples embedded in them, but also in the emergent collective
intelligence of the whole enterprise."

In considering our programmes of instruction, we would be well
advised, I think, to look on them, to design them as intelligent
systems, not relying merely on the fact that they are stocked with
very smart people (one assumes). Beal's observation that such a
system may itself be quite stupid is a sobering one.

Perhaps one needs a certain kind of society in order to focus
sufficient effort into forging such intellectual collectivity and to
bring it about in a way that would not stifle creative work but
nurture it. (Social consensus is, I understand, commonly identified
as a Dutch virtue.) I suspect it's much more difficult in some
national societies than it is in others. But even so, it's difficult
not to conclude that PhD programmes capable of intellectual
collectivization would be training students to give back to their
societies something as valuable as the work they are paid to do.

There has to be more to it than simply working together with others
during the PhD and afterwards. If there were not, then such praise as
Beal gives to van den Herik's administrative work would be
commonplace in the sciences. But this seems not to be the case. Or
are our scientific colleagues better off in this respect?



Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Received on Wed Dec 05 2007 - 03:52:12 EST

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