Re: Babbage/Menabrea: Analytical Engine

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Mon Mar 19 2001 - 12:18:05 GMT

On Thu, 1 Mar 2001 wrote:

> > It is desirable to guard against the possibility of exaggerated ideas
> > that might arise as to the powers of the Analytical Engine. In
> > considering any new subject, there is frequently a tendency, first, to
> > overrate what we find to be already interesting or remarkable; and,
> > secondly, by a sort of natural reaction, to undervalue the true state
> > of the case, when we do discover that our notions have surpassed
> > those that were really tenable.
> Hindle:
> Menabrea proclaimed a warning
> here in 1842. He most probably anticipated the hype that was going to be
> associated with computation i.e. that it alone would lead to the
> production of machines with human level intelligence. Now that it looks
> unlikely that the [hypothesis] of computation reproducing human intelligence
> looks to be false, then it may now be time to take heed to the second part
> of the paragraph. We perhaps now hold a too low opinion of the power of
> computation.

Got a little lost in the negations in your "Now that" sentence: Are you
saying computationalism (i.e., the hypothesis that cognition =
computation) is likely or unlikely to be false? But you are right, that
even if it were false that ALL of cognition is just computation, it
would still be possible, indeed likely, that SOME of cognition is
computation, and also that computation might still help us understand
and model the rest (i.e., the noncomputational part). This is just the
Church/Turing Thesis (or "Weak AI").
> > The bounds of arithmetic were however outstepped the moment the idea
> > of applying the cards had occurred; and the Analytical Engine does not
> > occupy common ground with mere "calculating machines." It holds a
> > position wholly its own; and the considerations it suggests are most
> > interesting in their nature. In enabling mechanism to combine together
> > general symbols in successions of unlimited variety and extent, an
> > uniting link is established between the operations of matter and the
> > abstract mental processes of the most abstract branch of mathematical science.
> > A new, a vast, and a powerful language is developed for the future use
> > of analysis, in which to wield its truths so that these may become of
> > more speedy and accurate practical application for the purposes of
> > mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered
> > possible. Thus not only the mental and the material, but also the
> > theoretical and the practical in the mathematical world are brought into
> > more intimate and effective connection with each other. We are not aware
> > of its being on record that anything partaking in the nature of what is
> > so well designated the Analytical Engine has been hitherto proposed, or
> > even thought of, as a practical possibility, any more than the idea of a
> > thinking or of a reasoning machine.
> Hindle:
> In the above Paragraph I believe that Menabrea has captured the key point
> between the difference between mathematical calculation and
> computation. He has identified that the meaning inferred in the order of
> the operations is what makes the Analytical Engine so powerful. The
> intelligence is the generating of the order of the operations, not in the
> operations or the order of operations themselves. Unfortunately the
> ordering of the operations or programming has to be done by a Human and so
> the machine itself is not intelligent. Menabrea does then seem to suggest
> the possibility of a thinking machine being made from an expanded
> Analytical Engine. By thinking machine I take him to mean an intelligent
> machine. This is where I think he makes a mistake, he suggests that an
> intelligent machine could be make from computation alone.

But in all this, it is not clear (apart from Granny-worries) why
computation CAN do it all, or, if not, why it CANNOT. Again, intuitions
are being floated about what is and is not intelligent, and what
computation can and cannot do. Can we do better?

> Hindle:
> In my
> opinion, his flawed reasoning [went] something like this; he thought that
> since intelligence was present in the programming, or ordering, of the
> operations then if he could build a machine which was capable of ordering
> the operations it would be intelligent or a thinking machine. What I think
> he failed to grasp was that if he built a machine capable of ordering the
> operations then the intelligence would be in the ordering of the
> operations of that particular machine. This is closely related to the
> frame problem, only instead of the meaning of objects being in question,
> the problem lies with the meaning of the ordering of operations.

I think I might understand what you are saying here, but Kid-Sib does
not. Could you expand on this? What I think you said is that there is an
element of interpreration that goes beyond the mechanical operations in
both these cases, and that, as in the Frame Problem, there always will
be. If that is so, please explain in some more detail why.

Stevan Harnad

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