Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Dec. 6, 2021, 7:52 a.m. Humanist 35.389 - divergence

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 389.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-12-06 07:45:19+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: divergence

Thanks to Tim Smithers for poking at my breezy statement about
divergence of artificial from human intelligence. I agree that we cannot
know what people have thought about anything, go/weiqi included. But we
can know what scholars of the game, which is taken very seriously indeed
in China, Korea, Japan and elsewhere, have written. I was replying on
those who have studied the written record. I understand as well that
those who know chess well say much the same about new techniques arising
out of play with computers.

Divergence was noted in the simplest terms from the beginning -- speed,
accuracy and mnemonic capacity of earliest machines was repeatedly cited
as the great difference. Negatively, we have the slander, which
McCorduck reports on, that computers were called "fast morons", with the
well known "garbage in, garbage out" variant; this points to an initial
difference that the AI folks have been trying to get around ever since.
Differences arising from how digital machines work in contrast to
humans, the subject of von Neumann's last lecture, seem to me bound to
emerge in the results.

I'm very reluctant to say that "computers don't think", because I am not
at all sure what thinking is; like 'intelligence', it seems to me a
mug's game to define, to slice-and-dice the kinds. It seems to me much
better to say, as McCorduck provoked, that whatever machines do, they do
it differently.

What matters, I 'think', is that we not try to deny or erase the
differences, except for well-defined practical purposes, but devote
ourselves to studying them.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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