mechanized thought, and other follies

problem #1

claude shannon... skills physical and otherwise. film of shannon's maze solving machine. at 1:00, skip to 4:00, 4:20 skip to 5:00, etc.

The fascination of watching Shannon's innocent rat negotiate its maze does not derive from any obvious similarity between the machine and a real rat; they are, in fact, rather dissimilar. The mechanism, however, is strikingly similar to the notions held by certain learning theorists about rats and organisms in general.

Josiah Macy Jr Foundation
Eighth Conference on Cybernetics
15 March 1951

from the same book, p175...

SHANNON: ...I will change the maze so that the solution the machine found no longer works. ... by changinging the partitions.. when it arrives at A, it remembers that the old solution said to go to B, and so it goes around the circle A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D... it has established a vicious circle, or a singing condition. GERARD: A neurosis. Shannon: Yes. SAVAGE: It can't do that when it's mind is blank, but it can do it after it has been conditioned? SHANNON: Yes, only after it has been conditioned. However, the machine has an antineurotic circuit built in to prevent this sort of situation. ... SAVAGE: It doesn't have any way to recognize that it is "psycho"; it just recognizes that it has gone on too long? ...

and further deep insight...

When I look at an article in Russian, I say, "This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode it."

-- Warren Weaver, in a 1947 letter to Norbert Wiener, MIT; from Machine Translation of Languages, Fourteen Essays, MIT Press 1957.

the mechanical turk

compare shannon's maze solver with kempelen's mechanical turk, or vaucanson's shitting duck (1739).

vaucanson's duck

"...without the shitting duck of Vaucanson, you will have nothing to remind you of the glory of France."

or consider asimo, our emissary from the robot world.

westerners invent nothing

ismael al-jazari made a perpetual (oh yeah? where is it now?) water-powered flute, and threw in a bi-stable flip-flop for nothing. too bad he didn't think about steam, else he'd have been steaming 'round the globe and discovered global warming long before us.

mechanical idea: the cam

looking here at one simple mechanism, the cam.

erroneously it's all relegated to the historical dustbin of analog computing (computing by analogy; cognition by mechancial metaphor). here are some novelty mechanisms but simple cams can compute nearly any function. the oldest programmable music machine i've heard of is Johann Nepomuk Maelzel's panharmonium (later called panharmonikon), circa 1820's or earlier. a contemporary of Kempelen.

exquisite cam constructs: vaucanson's cams (gets to the point at 26:45; Pierre Jaquet-Droz's boy at 28:30 especially). cam stack as example of subroutining.

vinyl record as cam

that's all that a record is; a cam, wound into a circle. video gets to the point around 4:30. on a monaural record there is a 1:1 correspondence between groove shape and the motion of the speaker that pushes air up to your ear.

mechanization of cognition

in the modern era, edsger dijkstra's metaphor for the decomposition of algebraic formula into one more easily digested by simple sequential machines is a direct and intentional metaphor to a railway switchyard. it's something that people can do intuitively, knowing rules of algebraic precedence, but machine solution was hard to specify.

A + B - C * D becomes A B C * D +

the final form is known as RPN, aka Reverse Polish Notation, and i shit you not, by "Polish" is meant Jan Ɓukasiewicz, ("Wu-ka-SHAVE-itch") because mathematicians couldn't be bothered to learn how to pronounce his name. do you think i am kidding? (PS: i am the proud owner of an HP-16C calculator.) and yes, i am aware that this page uses the wrong charset to render his name.

the MT "discipline" bore some fruit; Pitts and McCulloch's neural notation rapidly became the more or less universal language of machine internal logic, aka digital logic schematic notation.




the computer as demon metaphor

Ferranti Mark 1 Programmers Manual Alan Turing 1952 1 General Remarks on Electronic Computers Electronic computers are intended to carry out any definite rule of thumb process which could have been done by a human operator working in a disciplined but un- intelligent manner. The electronic computer should however obtain its results very much more quickly. The human computer with whom we are comparing it may be imagined as supplied with various computing aids. He should have a desk machine, paper to write his results on, and more paper on which is written a detailed account of how the calculation is to be carried out. These aids have their analogues in the electronic computer. The desk machine is transformed into the computing circuits, and the paper becomes the "information store" or more briefly the "store", whether it is paper used for results or paper carrying instructions. There is also a part of the machine called the control which corresponds to the computer himself. If his possi- ble behaviour were very accurately represented this would have to be a formidable complicated circuit. However we really only require him to be able to obey the writ- ten instructions and these can be made so explicit that the control can be quite simple. There remain two more components of the electronic computer. These are the input and output mechanisms, by which information is to be transformed from outside into the store or conversely. If the analogy of the human computer is to be maintained these parts would correspond to his ears and voice, by means of which he communicates with his employer.

i just like this huge graphic, it makes things seem so rational.

MT -- machine translation folly begins

mechancial translation of languages has been a dream (bad fantasy) for a long time, but in the post-war era, with the tantalizing availability (and profound musinderstanding of the limitations of the machines and our understnading of their capabilities) MT really took liberties -- and found itself at many dead-ends. from Tigris and Euphrates -- A Comparison between human and machine translation, R.H. Richens, Cambridge Language Group, Mechanization of Thought Processes, Proceedings of NPL Symposium 24..27 November 1958, p.299:

...A difficulty asises at this point. Neither human translation nor MT is feasible without some semantic analysis yet passages are frequently encountered where the metaphorical use of words presents serious difficulties. Take Crensahw's

... soft powers
Whose silken flatteries swell a few fond hours
Into false enternity.

A pedestrian semantic analytic [computer] programme may splutter at powers being soft, at flattery composed of silk, at hours being either fond or swelling and at eternity being false. There is every possiblity that semantic incongruencies will be detected in such a passage and it is necessary, when these would otherwise inhibit translation, to relax too tight a form of semantic analysis or even discard it entirely and translate on the basis of syntactic coherence or semantic-field considerations.

hints of the future...

Efficient practice precedes the theory of it; methodologies presuppose the application of the methods, of the critical investigation of which they are products. ... It is therefore possible for people to intelligentlyto perform some sorts of operations when they are not yet able to consider any propositions enjoining how they should be performed. Some intelligent performances are not controlled by any anterior acknowledgements of the principles applied in them.

The crucial objection to the intellectualist legend is this. The consideration of propositions is itself an operation of the execution of which can be more or less intelligent, less or more stupid. But if, for any opeation to be intelligently executed, a prior theoretical operation had to first ne performed and performed intelligently, it would be a logical impossibility for anyone to ever break into the circle.

(5) 'In my head.'
It is convenient to say something here about how our everyday use of the phrase 'in my head'. ... Whys is this felt to be an appropriate and expressive metaphor? For a metaphor it certainly is. No one thinks that when a tune is running in my head, a surgeon could unearth a little orchestra buried in my skull, or that a doctor by applying a stethescope could hear a muffled tune, in the way in which I hear the muffled whistling of my neighbor when i put my ear to the wall between our rooms.

Concept of Mind, Gilbert Ryle, 1949

and the present...

The mind is inherently embodied.

Thought is mostly unconscious.

Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.

These are three major findings of cognitive science. More than two millenia of a priori philosophical speculation about thes3 aspects are over.

This book asks: What would happen if we started with [these]these] empirical discoveries about the nature of mind and constructed philosophy anew?

These findings of cognitive science are profoundly disquieting in two respects. First, the tell us that human reason is a form of animal reason, a reason inextricably tied to our bodies and the peculiarities of our brains. Second, these results tell us that our bodies, brains, and interactions with out envirohment provide the mostly unconscious basis for our everyday metaphysics, that is, our sense of what is real.

Philosophy In The Flesh, Lakoff and Johnson, 1999

final thoughts...

pwned in translation (.MOV) or (.MP4)