Friday, November 25, 2016

Machines and us

You know that we live on tectonic plates, that move around, creating changes in our planet.  In a way that is similar, what can be thought of as tectonic plates of thought, knowledge and changing interests, slide and move and alter our worlds of knowledge and insights.  

[ I had never mentally compared tectonic plates to areas of knowledge before.  I don't know much about earth's plates and I wondered how many there are.  I Googled "how many tectonic plates" and immediately Google showed "Seven'.]

Before being helpfully interrupted, I was remembering how, because of both knowledge industries and my own interest, I had several times found that studying human-machine interaction showed interesting and unexpected aspects of the human mind and habits.  I created a course called "Humans, Computers and Systems Analysis" but the curriculum committee doubted that there was a viable, intellectually honest course in such a subject.  We compromised on a revised title: "Humans, Computers and Educational Possibilities."

The point was to compare human functions like memory, thinking/logic/analysis and yes, emotion, with parallel functions in machines.  When thinking about how and why humans act as they do, it can be helpful to ask why evolutionary processes might have arranged us a certain way.  I am brought back to this subject because our new "family member", Amazon's Alexa.  She is the cousin or sister or something of other women you might have heard of: Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana. She is short and cylindrical.  She is mechanical and is only a "she" because the sound waves she produces sound like a human woman.  

Finding out what she can and can't do is interesting.  I thought she might be of use to a potter, who frequently has her hands dirty, and covered in wet clay or glaze and has only her voice free to use on other things, such as ask what the temperature is outside.  

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