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Re: FleshFactor: am niche, chain me, nice ham: machine



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Derek Robinson wrote:

>Brian Molyneaux's recent offering, lovely. I'd make just one small
>correction --- that, so far as I know, the term "machine" in its present
>sense (or something very close to it) must have been in use well before
>the 1699 date of the quote attributed to Hume (who was born in 1711,
>BTW),since young turks like Leonardo (1452-1519), John Dee (1527-1608),
>Simon Stevin (1548-1620), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), and Rene Descartes
>(1596-1650), were self-styled "mechanics" -- meaning that they took
>Nature as their textbook, and not the ersatz Aristotle of the schools.

I am grateful to Derek Robinson for pointing out my errors - the century
is the 16th, and the date is 1599 and the man is a different Hume. His was
the second earliest record of the English word 'machine' (as a
contrivance) - both were in the 16th century. I was simply pointing out,
on one level, that humans and machines have been closely identified for a
long time, and at another level, that the English words I use have a
history and so are not absolute. The concrete word 'machine' simply has no
concrete meaning. Derek extends this arid point by showing how rich the
concept is. It's all 'deus ex machina'.    

I am embarrassed by the error, but it makes me think about another aspect
of this human/computer interface. Error is getting less and less human.
Part of the problem is the speed of communication. In real time, you might
have picked up my error, but speech is so ephemeral and so much faster
than writing that I might have got away with it. A few years ago I might
have pored over the material text and found it - time in that paper
landscape is much slower than it is in the world of radiated light. But
three days ago, I moved so quickly from thought to monitor page to email,
lulled by a false confidence in machine correction, and unable to navigate
through the electronic text as I once did through the landscape of the
physical text, that I missed it. When I am more careful, I always print a
draft copy first. Amazingly, or not surprisingly, I find errors more
easily in hard copy. What is it about my scanning of the monitor that is
different from my scanning of the page?

One reason is that I think of electronic communication as closer to speech
than to old fashioned writing. As most writing becomes electronic, will I
become less conscious of error, or less mindful of error? Does anyone
spell-check their email? Only the people who organize their sock drawers? 

Error is also less of a big deal now, it seems, as we become more
suspicious about the identity of what we call things. If we construct
everything, and we are completely immersed in subjectivity, what's a few
errors?  No-one knows what is right, anyway. 

I guess the only errors that really count are the ones that have material
consequences - like lying to the judge, getting murdered by the critics,
or walking into a door. I'd rather die electronically than end up with a
bloody nose.


Brian Leigh Molyneaux, June 20, 1997. 

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