Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 176. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: 2020-07-18 19:49:57+00:00 From: Reg Harbeck
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.174: the role of the IBM System 360 &c. Reading Willard's thoughts below (thank you Dr. McCarty) has invoked some thoughts of my own that I haven't had the opportunity to record previously. So, with thanks to Willard for stirring up these thoughts, and appreciation for any who will read, consider, and possibly offer feedback to correct or fine-tune my thinking, here are some things that might seem glibly obvious to pure-play technologists, and yet from a humanities perspective seem important and underappreciated to me: First, it seems that every time we "level up" with automation we think we've achieved some kind of escape velocity from the human condition, but when we have fully established ourselves on that "next level," including computerization and automation, we find ourselves once again face to face with ourselves. That suggests to me that the latest "superhuman" thinking such as the singularity and transhumanism (both of which I've researched and written about as part of my degree - glad to share any of that with anyone who requests them, keeping in mind that they're just assignments, and not publication-ready) will likely have the same results once we've gained those "pinnacles" and are reflecting on our newfound circumstances. Second, that automation doesn't replace craftsmanship, it just offers a "good enough" commodity functionality that allows people of genius and motivation to bring their talents and insights to bear on the next layer of challenges. However, the quality of that foundational layer does set the stage for future capacities. So, with the early mainframes, built with a level of craftsmanship that was standard among professionals of that time, there is a reliable solidity of functionality that subsequent layers can take for granted. On the other hand, platforms that were built as inexpensively as possible to be "good enough" as commodity consumer electronics computing grew up with inherent weaknesses that continue to be fertile soil for every kind of security and functionality problem as each additional layer of features is piled on these feet of clay. Third, that those who inherit future "layers" on top of the early foundations will never understand the underlying layers as anything but ambient context, and will understand the functionality of the platforms as they inherit them from the perspective of the then-current level of technology. While you can dig into history and the numerous layers of standards, interfaces, software, operating systems, drivers, and hardware, unless you've worked directly with them in their "raw" functionality without higher layers building on their behaviours, their essential natures will seem esoteric and disconnected from practical understanding beyond providing support for the then-current layer. I suppose that, in addition to "let me help you put that more clearly," and "well, maybe you should it put it this way, instead," some who read the above may be tempted to say, "huh?" I invite all three responses. It is my hope to stop preaching only to the choir someday and start writing this stuff for the general public, so any guidance about how to put such thoughts so they are valid and comprehensible to non-technologists will be gratefully received. And, thank you again Dr. McCarty! - Reg Harbeck On Sat, 18 Jul 2020 06:27:01 -0000, Humanist wrote: Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 174. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: email@example.com -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 2020-07-17 07:39:51+00:00 From: Willard McCarty Subject: perceptions of mainframes For whatever it is worth, here is a brief recollection of my perceptions of mainframe machines when I was a computer operator in the 1960s. It does not concern the System 360 but may be relevant to Reg Harbeck's enquiry. Although I had a brief run-in with the IBM 704, my first sustained encounter with a proper mainframe was with an IBM 7094. This was followed by long exposure to a CDC 6600, whose input was managed by a CDC 6400. To cut to the chase: I realised almost immediately when we moved to the CDC (13 peripheral processors, at first 8 'simultaneous' jobs, then 64) that, as I thought of it at the time, the machine no longer needed me. As it finished with whatever jobs were current, it simply went on to other things. Formerly I had run the 7094 machine; now the 6600 was running itself. Actually the change that I noticed was a widespread phenomenon of automation, in which the role of the worker shifted to the role of a supervisor remote from much of what was happening. The literature on this aspect of the change is abundant. (See e.g. Lisanne Bainbridge, "Ironies of automation" , and Barry Strauch, "Ironies of automation: Still unresolved after all these years" .) On the ground, the change was remarkable enough that the memory of it has survived ca 55 years. One might say this was a personal experience of an 'ascent' up the computational layers of abstraction -- experienced as a curiosity and a loss. There was, I recall, a loss of the sense of craftsmanship, or something remotely akin to that. I regained a form of it when I became an assembly-language programmer, and of course again when many years later I had my own microcomputer. Impressionistically I would draw a connection between my sense of creative use or control and a relation to the machine of a more humane kind. But here we go into the fog, I fear. Yours, WM -- Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org) _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: firstname.lastname@example.org List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
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