It is strange how most of the articles we are reading are about the non-computational part of the computer. The focus is still on the non-human part of the computer but more on the non-physical part and on the ability of computer to so something humans can’t do on their own or with other tools. As an engineer it is at first disconcerting to summarily defocus from the computational part but it does seem that computations are really the grunt job for computers anyway. Yes, generating the terabytes of data from simulation of complex system using the electricity that can power a small town is great. But parsing the data fruitfully to understand the physics behind simulated results is priceless. The parsing includes viewing the results from different perspectives, sometimes seeing it using multiple perspectives at the same time. It is difficult process but one that defines expertise.
One line of thought that reemerges in this weeks reading of the article by Nelson is the ability of the computer to zoom in and out of a perspective and the ability to link in a multi-dimensional way. Instead of having an atlas of the world, and America, and wildlife in America, and road map of New York, and best restaurants in NYC, we have google earth/map and other similar multi-scale, multi-dimensional systems. In some way we want the computer to behave like human brain. Human brain seems to have the ability to do multi-dimensional connections at multiple scales. If I trust the author, I should say that we want the computer to behave like the human brain before its abilities are attenuated by our educational system.
This reading was quite difficult for me, probably because I have only read news, scientific literature, and fiction in the last 20 years. It is difficult for me to combine the interesting logical flow of ideas and dreams with the random (to me) social commentary. The other primary focus on many of the articles that muddles the logical flow for me is the need to have computers do what we want it to do rather than have some higher authority – government, computer programmers, or some other evil entity – control it. But it should be clear from my blog that I am getting better at combining logical single-dimensional flow of ideas with multi-dimensional commentary. I did take a potshot at the author above while trying to maintain logical flow … The article is from 40 years ago and I presume things are different now, for better or for worse. Would you rather have computer programmers deciding what is allowed or would you put your trust in corporations?