Turing's Man

Turing's Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age

J. David Bolter
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Turing's Man
    Book Description:

    Trained in both classics and computer science, Bolter considers the cultural impact of computers on our age, comparing the computer to earlier technologies that redefined fundamental notions of time, space, language, memory, and human creativity. Surprisingly, he finds that in many ways the outlook of the computer age bears more resemblance to that of the ancient world than to that of the Enlightenment. The classical philosopher and the computer programmer share share a suspicion of infinity, an acceptance of necessary limitations on human achievement, and a belief that results are more important than motives.Although Bolter fears that the growing use of computers may well diminish out culture's sense of the historical and intellectual context of human endeavor, he contends that the computer also offers new ways of looking at intellectual freedom, creativity, and the conservation of precious resources.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1631-5
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    We live in spectacular but very uncertain times. In some ways, the prospects for the future have never been more exciting: they include great advances in the physical sciences, the freeing of men and women from all dangerous and dreary work through automation, and the exploration of outer space. At the same time, the social and economic problems of the near future are staggering—enormous overpopulation, the scarcity of resources, and the deterioration of the environment. Many ages in the past have shown great promise while facing great difficulties, yet our age is perhaps unique in that its problems and...

  5. 2 Defining Technologies in Western Culture
    (pp. 15-42)

    In the spring of 1900, a group of sponge divers came upon an ancient shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in the Aegean. Among the statues and objects recovered were “some calcified lumps of corroded bronze,” as Derek J. de Solla Price puts it (“An Ancient Greek Computer,” 61). These were recognized some months later as fragments of a mechanism, but it was not until 1955 that Price and his colleagues managed to sort out the pieces and reconstruct this remarkable machine. The Antikythera device is “like a great astronomical clock without an escapement, or like a modern analogue computer,...

  6. 3 Principles of Operation
    (pp. 43-52)

    Every new computer is accompanied by a manual entitled something like “Operation and Reference.” This explains the workings of the machine, usually not at the level of its electronics, but rather in terms of its logical parts and their function. The reader may care to think of the following chapters as a kind of cultural operation and reference manual for the computer. Each concentrates on one element of the technological world of computers—mathematics, logic, space, time, and so on—and shows how this element contributes to the making of Turing’s man. Any good manual begins with an overview of...

  7. 4 Embodied Symbol: Mathematics by Computer
    (pp. 53-65)

    In the twentieth century, the drive for speed and efficiency took hold of mathematics as it did so many other facets of our culture. The immediate ancestors of the digital computer were electromechanical calculators, which were themselves much faster than humans. The desire of scientists and the military for even faster computation led to the first fully electronic machines. The first project for the electronic computer ENIAC was to speed mathematical work at Los Alamos in connection with the atomic bomb. And scientists today are still seeking more computing power for ever more ambitious calculating tasks. Their demands spur designers...

  8. 5 Embodied Symbol: Logic by Computer
    (pp. 66-79)

    The computer was built to solve mathematical problems, but it was soon realized that its power went beyond numerical calculation. It could manipulate arbitrary symbols as easily as it could add numbers. Lady Lovelace, the disciple of Charles Babbage, understood the power of machine computation in the last century when she remarked that the Analytical Engine “can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they werelettersor othergeneralsymbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraicalnotation,were provisions made accordingly” (Morrison and Morrison,Charles Babbage and His Calculating Engines,273). John...

  9. 6 Electronic Space
    (pp. 80-99)

    There are three kinds of space of interest to us here: space as human beings perceive it, as they use it technologically, and as they theorize about it. The perception of space is studied by psychologists. The use of space is the subject of geography, sociology, and planning of all sorts—that is, the way in which human beings use tools and techniques to create an area for living and to allocate available resources. Meanwhile, scholars of art and architecture study the artist’s use of space for its symbolic or ornamental significance. Finally, there is the space about which philosophers...

  10. 7 Time and Progress in the Computer Age
    (pp. 100-123)

    There is an intimate connection between a culture’s attitude toward time and the technology by which it measures time. Which is cause and which effect are not easy to say. Did the Europeans invent weight-driven clocks because of their desire to know the precise hour, or did the clocks, once invented, change their way of scheduling business and social activities? The answer is likely to be yes to both questions. Some cultural value must have driven the Europeans to perfect a device that no other culture had cared much about. Yet once the new technology was called forth, it proceeded...

  11. 8 Electronic Language
    (pp. 124-150)

    The computer treats language as it treats logic, space, and time—with an odd combination of practicality and philosophical abstraction. On the practical level, computer languages are codes whose purpose is to represent the logical structure of problems to be solved. They are removed as far as possible from the emotional, ambiguous, and vocalized language of everyday life. And yet they are not without traditions, not without philosophical roots that reach back to the seventeenth century, and not without reminiscences that go back much further, at least to Aristotle. In creating his codes, the computer specialist in fact takes part...

  12. 9 Electronic Memory
    (pp. 151-164)

    The central processing unit of a computer is of no use without something to process, without programs to direct its high-speed manipulations and data to manipulate. The part of the machine in which elements of programs and data await their turn in the logical grinding mill (the CPU) and to which they return after processing is called the computer’s “memory.” Memory is what preserves instantaneous calculations, so that they can be used in further calculations or be written to a peripheral device for humans to read and use. Every instruction and bit of data that passes through the central processing...

  13. 10 Creator and Creation
    (pp. 165-188)

    This chapter is about making things electronically: the relationship of the computer specialist to his materials. We have already discussed the principal hardware and software components of the digital computer—the central processor, the core memory and external storage devices, the timing mechanism, and the programming languages. The machine is complete. In order to run, it needs one final element, the programmer. How does he fit into this intricate technological scheme? How does he impose his sense of purpose upon the otherwise purposeless, blank page of the Turing machine?

    The reader may feel that creativity is the wrong word to...

  14. 11 Artificial Intelligence
    (pp. 189-213)

    We return at last to the most radical expression of Turing’s man, artificial intelligence—the notion of putting together hardware and programs to create new thinking entities, machines that rival human beings. In classical and Christian thinking, man was a made thing, the crown of creation, perhaps, but not the creator. Whatever modern biology has done to stress the continuity of life from microbe to man, we still think of ourselves as the highest manifestation of evolution, or the creative power of nature. In fact, our modern self-appraisal is possibly higher than that of the Platonist or the Christian theologian....

  15. 12 Conclusion
    (pp. 214-240)

    The preceding chapters contain my sketch of Turing’s man and explain which elements of computer technology form his peculiar character. It is now possible, I think, to address the questions posed at the beginning: Should we be repelled by the notion of man as computer? Is Turing’s man a cultural aberration? It seems clear that he is the next step, the latest fashion, in our culture’s image of itself. But is he a caricature of the great images of the past: Plato’s ancient man, Christian man, enlightened man? Turing’s man is the most complete integration of humanity and technology the...

  16. Glossary of Computer Terms
    (pp. 241-246)
  17. Annotated Bibliography
    (pp. 247-256)
  18. Index
    (pp. 257-264)