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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tool Maker Extraordinaire

The following excerpt from today’s St. Petersburg Times for the first time got me thinking of computers as merely another result of man’s penchant for tool making:

Back in 1965, a British mathematician named I.J. Good projected what he called an “intelligence explosion”:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion," and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make. Source

In a way, the computer is no more remarkable than any other tool.  Like the Caterpillar track loader far exceeds man’s unaided muscle capabilities, the computer far exceeds man’s unaided intellectual capabilities. In neither case now nor in the future will man be relieved of his essential role as skilled hands and motive force.  Try as one will to get goose bumps thinking about how tools will take over (a silent movie comes to mind in which the central character is entrapped in a nightmare of gears and machinery) it will never happen except in cases where people willingly cave-in—as when the computer says “buy” a certain stock and we blindly do so—a self-willed abdication of responsibility.  In fact, the awe factor regarding tools can be dangerous when we start seeing them as infallible masters instead of fallible aids.  As painful as it may be for our addiction to the romance of technology, we should never favor goose bumps over a wary regard for the constant possibility of tool fatigue.

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