Re: Machines R Us

From: S.Harnad (
Date: Thu Dec 11 1997 - 23:01:37 GMT

> From: Elizabeth Hocking <>
> Computers are machines that have been created by man to help with many
> things: from calculations to word processing to worldwide
> communications.

Correct. But if they had grown on trees into exactly the same thing,
what difference would that make?

> Computers are programmed to react in a particular way
> to commands - a specific input results in a specific output.

It's just input, not "commands". There's an awful lot of input that we
all react in a particular way to too. And computers can be flexible, can
behave differently depending on other conditions. They can also do
things their programmer can neither do nor predict.

Our bodies build themselves (including our brains and hence our minds)
in response to DNA "commands".

> In this
> way, it is evident that computers are inherently stupid - any choices
> they make are restricted to those which have been programmed into their
> make-up.

Computers can be programmed to respond flexibly to input; they can also
be programmed to do things that the programmer can't do with his own
brain. (Why isn't the computer "smarter" than the programmer then?)

What may be true is that the computers and programmes we've seen so far
are still quite stupid.

> They have no knowledge or innate process for survival.

Not sure what you mean: What is "knowledge"? Why isn't it the bits that
are stored in a computers memory?

By "innate" I assume inborn, but what difference does it make if
something is inborn, or learnt, or simply put into my head?

> If told
> to, they would have no hesitation in destroying themselves and all that
> is part of them.

It's probably easier to get a human to destroy himself on command, but
so what?

But again, so what? Not every computer with every programme is relevant,
just the interesting ones, the ones that can do what we do, when we do

> They have no common sense and would corrupt everything
> if programmed to.

We'll pass over the common sense because I'm not so sure I've got
that much of it either, but what do you mean "corrupt"? Surely only
a person can "corrupt" people! Or, if a computer can, isn't that giving
it a lot more credit than you would want to?

Don't think of what you can get THIS computer to do with all kinds of
different programmes. Think of a computer that is running a programme,
and the programme makes it capable of doing what we do. What do you know
about the way our brains work that makes you sure that the computer is
not working in the same way?

> A computer also has a memory, but its memory space is
> restricted.

And ours isn't?

> Humans on the other hand, are inherently intelligent - we can make
> balanced choices from unlimited possibilities.

Are they all equally intelligent? Is a computer (running the programme I
just mentioned) not as smart as, say, a severly retarded person, or a
simpler creature? What does "intelligent"/"smart" mean?

> There is also no limit
> to our memory - there is enough space to remember every single thing
> that happens in our lives.

I doubt it; and when you read The Mind of a Mnemonist (Luria) and Funes
the Memorious (Borges) you will see what I mean.

> These are some of the differences between computers and humans. I'm
> sure that there are more, but I have not come up with any others.

Have a look at the skywriting archives of past years.

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