A thoughtful and balanced examination of the exaggerated claims made for computers and artificial intelligence.
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When the word 'computer' entered the general vocabulary in the 1950s, the most advanced example filled a reasonable sized room. Three decades of rapid technological revolution have resulted in the acceptance of computers in nearly every office, school and home. A corresponding dramatic rise in the status of 'information' has promoted the people who manipulate it from the status of office clerks to information scientists.
Despite the wonderful claims for the abilities of the computer and the hallowed tones of 'computerese', Theodore Roszak dares to suggest that perhaps, like the unfortunate emperor, the computer has been overdressed with false claims made by those with something to gain by it – elements in our society that are making some of the most morally questionable uses of computer power. Roszak challenges the reader to ask:
"Is our capacity to think creatively being undermined by the very 'information' that is supposed to help us? Is information processing being confused with science or even beginning to replace thought? And are we in danger of blurring the distinction between what machines do when they process information and what minds do when they think?"
He explains why humankind's primary beliefs, in equality, justice and in God are not computable; why great scientific theories and fundamental 'master ideas' cannot be developed by computers; and why bad ideas cannot even be refuted by them.
Roszak is no contemporary Luddite – this book was written on a word processor – but he is deeply concerned that we have all been sold a misleading and potentially harmful vision of the computerised society.
1. "Information, Please"
Cybernetics and the Secret of Life
Messages without Meanings
2. The Data Merchants
High Tech and the Conservative Opportunists
Sunbelt Politics and the Welfare State
Hackers and Hucksters
Silicon and Natural Selection
3. The Hidden Curriculum
The Chimera of Computer Literacy
A Solution in Search of Problems
The Computerized Campus
Power and Dependency
A Private Universe
4. The Program Within the Program
The Case of Logo
5. Of Ideas and Data
Ideas Come First
The Master Ideas
Experience, Memory, Insight
The Empiricist Gambit
No Ideas, No Information
6. Computers and Pure Reason
The Light in Plato's Cave
The Old Mathematical Magic
The Seduction of Software
An Alien Intelligence
The Flight from Reality
The Fifth Generation ... and Beyond
7. The Computer and the Counterculture
Big Blue and the Guerilla Hackers
An Electronic Populism
The Heroic Age of the Microcomputer
Reversionaries and Technophiles
Domes, Data, and Dope
Decline and Fall
8. The Politics of Information
Nothing But the Facts
Issues Before Information
On-line Communities: The Promise of Networking
The Public Library: The Missing Link of the Information Age
9. In the Wrong Hands
The Foundations of Information Technology
The Surveillance Machine
The Polling Machine
The War Machine
Machine à Gouverner
At the Limits of Sanity: The Psychotic Machine
10. Descartes's Angel
Reflections on the True Art of Thinking
Theodore Roszak was educated at UCLA and took his PhD at Princeton. Since then he has taught at Stanford, San Francisco State University and California State University, Hayward. He has twice been nominated for America's National Book Award.
"This thoughtful, sensitive and sane book heralds a coming new evaluation of the role of science and technology in the affairs of the human species. The quiet of Theodore Roszak's words, the humanity of his tone, stand in stark contrast to the loud, self-serving cacophony of the simplistic outpourings of the neo-positivists, as represented by the artificial intelligentsia."
Joseph Weizenbaum, Professor of Computer Science, MIT