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- Americans use 500 million of them every single day.;
- Is Google Making Us Stupid? - The Atlantic!
Browse our FAQs or submit your query here. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not. Computers, quite literally, process information — numbers, letters, words, formulas, images. On my computer, each byte contains 8 bits, and a certain pattern of those bits stands for the letter d , another for the letter o, and another for the letter g. Side by side, those three bytes form the word dog. Computers, quite literally, move these patterns from place to place in different physical storage areas etched into electronic components.
Sometimes they also copy the patterns, and sometimes they transform them in various ways — say, when we are correcting errors in a manuscript or when we are touching up a photograph. The rules computers follow for moving, copying and operating on these arrays of data are also stored inside the computer. Forgive me for this introduction to computing, but I need to be clear: computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process.
They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms. Humans, on the other hand, do not — never did, never will. Given this reality, why do so many scientists talk about our mental life as if we were computers? I n his book In Our Own Image , the artificial intelligence expert George Zarkadakis describes six different metaphors people have employed over the past 2, years to try to explain human intelligence.
In the earliest one, eventually preserved in the Bible, humans were formed from clay or dirt, which an intelligent god then infused with its spirit. The hydraulic metaphor persisted for more than 1, years, handicapping medical practice all the while. In the s, the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggested that thinking arose from small mechanical motions in the brain.
By the s, discoveries about electricity and chemistry led to new theories of human intelligence — again, largely metaphorical in nature. In the mids, inspired by recent advances in communications, the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz compared the brain to a telegraph.
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Each metaphor reflected the most advanced thinking of the era that spawned it. Predictably, just a few years after the dawn of computer technology in the s, the brain was said to operate like a computer, with the role of physical hardware played by the brain itself and our thoughts serving as software. Miller proposed that the mental world could be studied rigorously using concepts from information theory, computation and linguistics.
Although he acknowledged that little was actually known about the role the brain played in human reasoning and memory, he drew parallel after parallel between the components of the computing machines of the day and the components of the human brain. Propelled by subsequent advances in both computer technology and brain research, an ambitious multidisciplinary effort to understand human intelligence gradually developed, firmly rooted in the idea that humans are, like computers, information processors.
This effort now involves thousands of researchers, consumes billions of dollars in funding, and has generated a vast literature consisting of both technical and mainstream articles and books. The information processing IP metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences.
There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. And like all the metaphors that preceded it, it will certainly be cast aside at some point — either replaced by another metaphor or, in the end, replaced by actual knowledge. They saw the problem. It encumbers our thinking with language and ideas that are so powerful we have trouble thinking around them.
The faulty logic of the IP metaphor is easy enough to state.
It is based on a faulty syllogism — one with two reasonable premises and a faulty conclusion. Reasonable premise 1: all computers are capable of behaving intelligently. Reasonable premise 2: all computers are information processors.
Faulty conclusion: all entities that are capable of behaving intelligently are information processors. Setting aside the formal language, the idea that humans must be information processors just because computers are information processors is just plain silly, and when, some day, the IP metaphor is finally abandoned, it will almost certainly be seen that way by historians, just as we now view the hydraulic and mechanical metaphors to be silly.
If the IP metaphor is so silly, why is it so sticky?
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What is stopping us from brushing it aside, just as we might brush aside a branch that was blocking our path? Is there a way to understand human intelligence without leaning on a flimsy intellectual crutch? And what price have we paid for leaning so heavily on this particular crutch for so long?
From the first mobile phone to the Rubik's Cube, check out some of the most impactful inventions from the s. Start Slideshow. Rose Leadem. May 15, 7 min read. Image credit: William Andrew Getty Images. Before the days of cloud storage, thumb drives and even CDs, floppy disks were the best solution for storing electronic data. Unsurprisingly, IBM was at the forefront of this.
In , Apple released its first mass-produced computer, the Apple II, which came with two floppy disk drives. Next Slide.