Re: Stein: Challenging the Computer Metaphor

From: Hindle Thomas (
Date: Wed May 23 2001 - 12:27:08 BST

>>A concrete example of the limitations of the calculation metaphor was
>>provided by a senior developer at a major software company. Although
>>his company is able to hire some of the best computer science graduates
>>produced, he complained of difficulty finding students who can write
>>programs in which many things are happening simultaneously. I
>>originally assumed that he meant that their new hires had difficulty
>>with some of the finer points of synchronisation and concurrency
>>control. He corrected this impression, explaining that his problem was
>>"journeymen programmers" who didn't know how to think concurrently. Our
>>students are learning to decompose and solve problems in a way that is
>>problematic even for today's software market.

>I think that most of us will struggle to think concurrently as it's
>something we as humans struggle to do. The well known game of patting
>your head whilst rubbing your stomach shows this quite well, It is very
>hard to achieve this and takes a lot of concentration, Subconsciously we
>can do several things at once but we find it very hard to consciously do
>two completely separate things at the same time.

This statement is dependent on your definition of Subconscious. I would
not regard walking as subconscious as if I want to walk some where, I
make a conscious decision to walk. I would also regard talking as a
conscious action. The majority of people don't find it problematic to
walk and talk at the same time. Therefore I don't agree with the
statement that concurrency is something humans struggle to do either
subconsciously or consciously. I would however agree that practice is
necessary in performing each of the individual tasks before combining
them. An example of what I mean is when a baby is learning to walk it
concentrates solely on trying to walk and nothing else. When it has
become accomplished in the art of walking it is quite happy to perform
other talks (like eating a lollypop) whilst waking. I therefore don't
agree with the point Stein is making (or relaying), that computer
science graduates need to be taught it a differently. How would it be
possible for students to learn to program concurrently without being
able to program. Surely the only problem is that the computer science
students the firm was employing was that they needed to spend some time
applying their skills concurrently.

>>The recent emphasis on social cognition only adds fuel to this fire. If
>>thinking in a single brain is communally interactive, how much more so
>>the distributed "intelligence" of a community! Hutchins (1996) goes so
>>far as to suggest that cognition-in his case of a naval navigation team
>>guiding a warship-is necessarily distributed not just within a single
>>brain but across a community of people, instruments, and culture.
>>Computation as traditionally construed-the calculational
>>metaphor-provides little leverage for these new theories of thinking.
>>Shifting the computational metaphor opens up the possibility of
>>reuniting computation with cognition. Like the electronic computer, a
>>human brain is a community of interacting entities. This represents a
>>fundamental change in our understanding of how we think.

>Maybe this goes even further, It's not just small communities but also
>whole countries, the world and maybe even from the start of the human
>race until Judgement Day. Does this mean that we will need to have lots
>of interconnected systems to achieve real intelligence? Is intelligence
>more a group thing rather than an individual thing? If we put a person
>In a box for their entire life with no contact with the world outside
>the box do they have intelligence? I'm inclined to think not, and that
>it's the people around us that make us intelligent.

I think that this is a wrong view of intelligence. Intelligence is
definitely not a group thing but an individual think. In my view
intelligence is something you either have or don't have. It is not
possible to develop intelligence. It is possible to acquire more
knowledge by interacting with other people and hence put their
intelligence to better use, but knowledge is different to intelligence.
The counter argument to this is that even though intelligence does not
equal knowledge, knowledge is a part of intelligence. I disagree with
this because I think knowledge is necessary for demonstrating
intelligence an increase in knowledge does not imply an increase in

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