Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Aug. 21, 2021, 8:14 a.m. Humanist 35.196 - Turing's shadow and foretaste

				                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 196.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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    [1]    From: Mcgann, Jerome (jjm2f) 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.195: Turing's shadow and foretaste? (85)

    [2]    From: James Rovira 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.195: Turing's shadow and foretaste? (26)


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: 2021-08-20 11:04:48+00:00
        From: Mcgann, Jerome (jjm2f) 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.195: Turing's shadow and foretaste?

Dear Willard,

When did Turing say that.  It put me mind of Campbell’s “Lochiel’s Warning”:

Lochiel, Lochiel! beware of the day;
For, dark and despairing, my sight I may seal,
But man cannot cover what God would reveal;
’Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,
And coming events cast their shadows before.


X
Jerry


From: Humanist 
Date: Friday, August 20, 2021 at 3:00 AM
To: Mcgann, Jerome (jjm2f) 
Subject: [Humanist] 35.195: Turing's shadow and foretaste?
                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 195.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                                 Hosted by DH-Cologne
                       www.dhhumanist.org
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org




        Date: 2021-08-19 12:45:40+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: a shadow and a foretaste

Some here will already know about the image of Alan Turing on the
new British £50 note. It bears Turing's words quoted from an article
in The Times (London), 11 June 1949, in a series entitled "The
Mechanical Brain" (a commonplace term for the computer in Britain
in the first few decades of its existence). The quotation is just the first
sentence from the following as it appeared in The Times:

> This is on1y a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of
> what is going to be. We have to have some experience with the machine
> before we really know its capabilities. It may take years before we
> settle down to the new possibilities, but I do not see why it should
> not enter any one of the fields normally covered by the human
> intellect, and eventually compete on equal terms.
>
> I do not think you can even draw the line about sonnets, though the
> comparison is a little bit unfair because a sonnet written by a
> machine will be better appreciated by another machine.

For more see Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma (2014/1983),
pp. 510-11. Note the last sentence as well as the first.

This was at a time when the machine most of us give little thought to
was an object of excitement, mystery and foreboding. The digital
machine and its immediate electro-mechanical predecessors were,
as we've heard many times, very large, "giant brains" (a commonplace
term in the U.S. The digital machine was the object of much speculation
and, esp in the popular media, an evocative provocation to think of it in
anthropomorphic but dazzlingly superhuman, competitive terms, at one
moment amplifying the human mind to "unimaginable proportions"
(NYT 18/11/1949), at another a "'Brain' [that] outstrips man's" by
calculating "12,000 faster" (or 100,000 times in one account),
remembering far more than humanly possible with its "elephant
memory" (Popular Science Monthly (November 1949). And so on. My
favourite is British experimental psychologist Stuart Sutherland's article,
"The day the computers inherit the earth" (Globe and Mail, 12 April 1967),
which states the apocalyptic as simple certainty. Those with the time to
take a look may find Sutherland's autobiographical Breakdown (1977)
suggestive.

Now return to Turing's words on the £50 banknote: "This is on1y a
foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to
be." My question is this: what do you hear in that quoted sentence? Does
it not sound deliberately allusive? We know Turing could be mischievous.

Yours,
WM

--
Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist
www.mccarty.org.uk


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: 2021-08-20 14:03:09+00:00
        From: James Rovira 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.195: Turing's shadow and foretaste?

I think he's right in thinking a machine could write a sonnet, but
completely deluded in the idea that a machine could "appreciate" a
sonnet, much less "understand" one. "Appreciation" is an emotional response
dependent upon the presence of an organic body. Understanding is impossible
without appreciation. The remarkable task that a machine might be able to
perform is produce an extensive list of possible meanings, if programmed
with word clouds associated with every possible meaning of every word
(perhaps excluding articles) weighted by its proximity with other words.
But it couldn't choose among them as likely or preferable except based on
statistical analysis against a much larger corpus. The real weighting of
possible meanings is an affective function based on the subjective reaction
to lived experience. No machine can experience that the way a human being
can. It's one thing to identify a line as being associated with frustrated
desire based on statistical analysis, but another to recognize the
subjectivity of frustrated desire from experience. Machines experience no
desire, no frustration.

In this sentence, "This is on1y a foretaste of what is to come, and only
the shadow of what is going to be," Turing seems to me to be alluding to
the unknown future possibilities of the machine. He's enamored by what he's
created, so its future is enchanting to him but, of course, unknown.

Why "on1y" and not "only" though? Is that 1 a typo or in the original
quotation?

Jim R


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