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Humanist Archives: Aug. 2, 2022, 7:16 a.m. Humanist 36.115 - ways of talking about human-machine relations?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 115.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2022-08-02 05:49:59+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: human-machine relations

This is at least equally a question for the uninitiated as for any
experts in human-computer interaction: what figures of thought (a.k.a.
metaphors) get us further in understanding our relation with computing
machinery? Bill Buxton (computer science) and Alessandro Duranti
(linguistics), for example, have talked about musical performance,
improvisational jazz in particular. This appeals to me because it opens
up a connection with the arts. What others are there, and what promise
do they offer?

It's essential to remember, I think, that (to paraphrase Dr Johnson)
metaphor yokes two things by violence together. In other words, two very
different things, bringing the friction of the interplay between
identity and difference into focus. My doctoral mentor used to quote
the biblical "Joseph is a fruitful bough" as an example that makes
difference hard to ignore--Joseph clearly isn't a fruitful bough--while
inviting us to consider that in another sense he is.

This suggests to me that for computing machinery difference from the
human is the better, more rewarding goal, but that at the same time we
need ever better likenesses.

So, how do we think about our machines in order to make the most sense
of them? More than 'just a machine' in Minsky's 'precomputational'
sense, I'd think.


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

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