Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Coming of Numbers

The struggle is on, no
mistake, and I take
the side of life's history
against the coming of numbers.

— Wendell Berry

Steven Poole:

What lies behind our current rush to automate everything we can imagine? Perhaps it is an idea that has leaked out into the general culture from cognitive science and psychology over the past half-century — that our brains are imperfect computers. If so, surely replacing them with actual computers can have nothing but benefits. Yet even in fields where the algorithm’s job is a relatively pure exercise in number- crunching, things can go alarmingly wrong.

Reading all the recent hubbub about "big data", I get the impression that a lot of people look at Hume's "can't derive an ought from an is" and think, you know, maybe if we just piled up a gigantic mountain of is, we'd then be able to step right across to ought. Or maybe ought will be an emergent property of a certain density of is, the way human consciousness seems to emerge from trillions of neurons packed together so tightly. Either way, I've planned on reading Evgeny Morozov's newest book soon, but I'm beginning to think that maybe I should revist Theodore Roszak's The Cult of Information too.