Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Feb. 11, 2022, 6:13 a.m. Humanist 35.523 - imitate or diverge?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 523.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-02-10 06:59:05+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: like and unlike

The trajectory of artificial intelligence has been mimetic since the
beginning; much has been discovered in the process, and the
entertainment value of foreshadowing a mechanical Other has helped
enormously in keeping the tax-paying public on side. In the early 
days, however, there was a hint of something I'd regard as more 
promising: Marvin Minsky's 1958 lecture at the National Physical 
Laboratory, Teddington, "Some methods of artificial intelligence and 
heuristic programming". Minsky observed that 'intelligence' was a 
moving target:

> For our goals in trying to design 'thinking machines' are constantly
> changing in relation to our ever-increasing resources... For some
> purposes we might agree with Turing... to regard the same
> performances in a machine as intelligent. In so doing we
> would be tying the definition of intelligence to some particular
> concept of human behaviour... Instead, we are searching for new and
> better ways of achieving performances that command, at the moment,
> our respect. We are prepared for the experience of understanding and
> the consequent reshaping of our goals.

How long that admirably open-ended goal remained I have not been able to
find out. But it seems not to have lasted very long.

Absolute mimesis, or twinning of whatever our clever machines can be
designed to copy, does result in useful things, and makes good
advertising, no question. But I would ask, is this really what we're after 

A critic might mutter Juvenal's satirical "panem et circenses", referring to 
appeasement of crowds in a time of declining heroism. A perhaps cleverer 
person, seeing an opportunity, might reply by telling Aristotle's story of 
Thales, the philosopher, who (as I recall) managed to convince his 
neighbours he was an utter fool, quietly bought up all the olive
presses in the vicinity, then charged those neighbours a hefty sum to
press their olives when harvest-time came.



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

Unsubscribe at:
List posts to:
List info and archives at at:
Listmember interface at:
Subscribe at: