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The Future Does Not Compute

Book Description

Many pundits tell you that the computer is ushering us toward a new Golden Age of Information. A few tell you that the computer is destroying everything worthwhile in our culture. But almost no one tells you what Stephen L. Talbott shows in this surprising book: the intelligent machine gathers its menacing powers from hidden places within you and me. It does so, that is, as long as we gaze into our screens and tap on our keyboards while less than fully conscious of the subtle influences passing through the interface.Talbott awakens us to these influences by conducting a wide-ranging tour:

  • Why do we hail the birth of the electronic global village just as villagers around the world are killing each other? Is the Net an instrument for social dissolution?

  • Do the Renaissance origins of virtual reality throw light on our world-creating and world-destroying choices today? Does reality have a future?

  • Were the barriers to creation of thinking machines clarified by a little-known philologist investigating the mythic consciousness of the ancients?

  • Does the computer centralize or decentralize structures of power? Or does this question miss the point, because intelligent machines that run by themselves are creating a new global totalitarianism without a despotic center?

  • Is the frantic urging to put schoolchildren on the Internet any more reasoned than the seventies' fad for programmed instruction, or the eighties' fad for computer literacy?

  • Does an unrecognized law link the public face and the dark underside of the Net? If so, can we expect flame wars, weird impersonations, pornographic commerce, and Net psychoses to grow increasingly pronounced and erratic, while at the same time the reasoned mechanisms for filtering "strict business" from the chaos steadily gain in effectiveness?

  • Is artificial intelligence raising machines to a human level, or are we descending to the machine's level?

  • After reading The Future Does Not Compute, you will never again be able to sit in front of your computer with quite the same glazed stare.(BACKCOVER COPY) The technological Djinn, now loosened from all restraints, tempts us with visions of a surreal future. It is a future with robots who surpass their masters in dexterity and wit; intelligent agents who roam the Net on our behalf, seeking the informational elixir that will make us whole; new communities inhabiting the clean, infinite reaches of cyberspace, freed from war and conflict; and lending libraries of "virtually real" experiences that seem more sensational than the real thing.Not all of this is idle or fantastic speculation -- even if it is the rather standard gush about our computerized future. Few observers can see any clear limits to what the networked computer might eventually accomplish. It is this stunning, wide-open potential that leads one to wonder what the Djinn will ask of us in return for the gift. After all, any potential so dramatic, so diverse, so universal, can be taken in many directions. That is its very nature. Who will choose the direction -- we, or the Djinn?The intelligent machine receives a shadow of our own intelligence. This shadow consists of all the collective, automatic, sleepwalking, deterministic processes we have yielded to. That is, it consists of our own willingness to become machines. The crucial question today is whether we can wake up in time. Only in wakefulness can we distinguish ourselves from the automatisms around us. Where we remain asleep -- where we live in our own shadow -- we are the Djinn.The Net is the most powerful invitation to remain asleep we have ever faced. Contrary to the usual view, it dwarfs television in its power to induce passivity, to scatter our minds, to destroy our imaginations, and to make us forget our humanity.And yet -- for these very reasons -- the Net may also be an opportunity to enter into our fullest humanity with a self-awareness never yet achieved. But few even seem aware of the challenge, and without awareness we will certainly fail.

    Table of Contents

    1. Cover Page
    2. Title Page
    3. Selected Reviews of
    4. Contents
    5. Acknowledgments
    6. 1: Can Human Ideals Survive the Internet?
      1. Fatalism and hope
      2. The scattered self
      3. Ideals cannot be engineered
      4. This book is a symptom
      5. References
    7. 2: The Machine in the Ghost
      1. Tools get under our skin
      2. We meet ourselves in our computers
      3. The will toward artifice
      4. References
    8. 3: The Future Does Not Compute
      1. How shall I choose my wife?
      2. Computing to work
      3. When judges are computers
      4. References
    9. 4: Settlers in Cyberspace
      1. Lost in the counterculture
      2. Pioneer days
      3. The self-absorbed Net
      4. The settling of cyberspace
      5. Who threatens the Net?
      6. Seeing the future in ourselves
      7. The mechanisms of our future
      8. References
    10. 5: On Being Responsible for Earth
      1. We need to see ourselves
      2. Computerized technology is not a fixed quantity
      3. To destroy or to create
    11. 6: Networks and Communities
      1. Technology is not community
      2. Gilded vision
      3. Making contact
      4. Powers of heart and soul
      5. References
    12. 7: At the Fringe of Freedom
      1. Institutions take form within the human being
      2. Technology can distract us from ourselves
      3. Between helplessness and freedom
    13. 8: Things That Run by Themselves
      1. From start-up to behemoth
      2. The computer's new-venture virtues
      3. A new totalitarianism?
      4. Engineering teamwork
      5. Looking realistically ahead
      6. References
    14. 9: Do We Really Want a Global Village?
      1. Legacy of the colonial village
      2. Technology transfer
      3. The lie
      4. References
    15. 10: Thoughts on a Group Support System
      1. Brainstorming, analyzing, and voting
      2. Are there no risks?
      3. The development of human capital
      4. References
    16. 11: In Summary
      1. Who -- or what -- holds our future?
      2. A crisis of awakening
      3. References
    17. 12: Net-based Learning Communities
      1. The world is disappearing from the child
      2. How can we knit a community together?
      3. The things that count
    18. 13: Impressing the Science out of Children
      1. Two-minute science lessons
      2. Where does wonder come from?
      3. The loss of nature
      4. References
    19. 14: Children of the Machine
      1. How do children learn?
      2. Seeking a counterbalance to abstraction
      3. What is immediacy?
      4. Education by hypermedia
      5. How fast is zero?
      6. Cybernetics
      7. Respecting the child
      8. Fun and authority
      9. In search of imagination
      10. References
    20. 15: Dancing with My Computer
      1. How to make music at the keyboard
      2. Our changing relation to language
      3. Can we make words our own?
    21. 16: The Tyranny of the Detached Word
      1. Word processing
      2. From words to information
      3. Word and image
      4. References
    22. 17: The Great Information Hunt
      1. Descent from wisdom
      2. On converting ourselves to information
      3. What does the computer see?
      4. A dream of alchemy
      5. From information to power
      6. Loss of the self
      7. References
    23. 18: And the Word Became Mechanical
      1. The embodiment of intelligence
      2. Getting computers to think the easy way
      3. Natural ignorance
      4. Computerized therapy
      5. Words in the void
      6. The System speaks
      7. Superstition
      8. References
    24. 19: Listening for the Silence
      1. Filtering out the human being
      2. References
    25. 20: Awaking from the Primordial Dream
      1. Living in a dream
      2. History as an awakening
      3. The mind of the computer
      4. The soul of the computer
      5. References
    26. 21: Mona Lisa's Smile
      1. A new interior, a new exterior
      2. The bloated subject
      3. Excursions to the Alps
      4. To look or not
      5. Facing the darkness
      6. Art and the technological image
      7. References
    27. 22: Seeing in Perspective
      1. Renaissance virtual reality
      2. A clean, mathematical space
      3. Was the world created in perspective?
      4. Really, now. Wasn't the world created in perspective?
      5. Limitations of linear perspective in art
      6. Do we see in here” or
      7. Am I an embryo or an island?
      8. Does reality have a future?
      9. References
    28. 23: Can We Transcend Computation?
      1. A brief preview
      2. Accuracy, truth, and meaning
      3. The pole of logic and mathematics
      4. Meaning and logic
      5. How does meaning arise?
      6. The polar dynamic of meaning
      7. So, then ... what is meaning?
      8. Computers, logic, and meaning
      9. Toward the future
      10. References
    29. 24: Electronic Mysticism
      1. Athena's project
      2. The law in which we're made
      3. From meaning to syntax
      4. What manner of gods will we be?
      5. Ignoring the past
      6. Escaping cultural limitation
      7. References
    30. 25: What This Book Was About
      1. Where are machines leading?
      2. Two faces of technology
      3. A mutual embrace
      4. Toward a hypertext of the subconscious
      5. Where is the center?
      6. The elusive line between man and machine
      7. Beyond shoveling facts
      8. Space of the world, space of the programmer
      9. Redemptive dead ends
      10. Our freedom is borne by the world, too
      11. References
    31. Appendix A: Owen Barfield: The Evolution of Consciousness
      1. The Origin and Development of Language
      2. Meaning and Imagination
      3. Participation
      4. The Evolution of Consciousness
      5. Science and the Future
      6. References
    32. Appendix B: From Virtual to Real
      1. Ancient principles, or new?
      2. A changing of the guard?
      3. A question of abstraction
      4. Can the appearances be saved?
      5. References
    33. Appendix C: Education Without Computers
      1. What is Waldorf education?
      2. Transformation of capacities
      3. Schools for the head
      4. The unity of art and science
      5. Observation before theory
      6. Human-centered education
      7. A word about the preschooler
      8. Questions and stories
      9. Arithmetic and imagination
      10. An age of transition
      11. From myth to abstraction
      12. The teacher
      13. Selected bibliography on Waldorf education
    34. Bibliography