How do contemporary technologies shape our understanding of ourselves?
By the 1500s, automata powered by springs and gears had been devised, eventually inspiring leading thinkers such as René Descartes to assert that humans are complex machines. In the 1600s, the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggested that thinking arose from small mechanical motions in the brain. By the 1700s, discoveries about electricity and chemistry led to new theories of human intelligence – again, largely metaphorical in nature. In the mid-1800s, inspired by recent advances in communications, the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz compared the brain to a telegraph. 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 1940s, 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.
More on this, and why the same stimulus may not lead to the same experience, at Aeon.
It’s January, so it must be time for the annual celebration of the value of the UK’s creative industries.
The UK’s creative industries are now worth a record £84.1 billion to the UK economy, figures published today reveal.
British films, music, video games, crafts and publishing are taking a lead role in driving the UK’s economic recovery, according to the latest Government statistics.
Strange (as always) to mention the creative activities with some kind of cultural or artistic bent, but not to flag up the ‘creative’ sector which accounts for almost half of that £84.1bn figure – ‘IT, Software and Computer Services’.
Glenn Fleishman argues that bad data leads to a basic misunderstanding about the risks to children from strangers:
As with most crime and violence, children are exposed to the greatest risk either because of family members or their own choices.
Is the world being taken over by bigoted algorithms?
Pasquale cites a 2013 study, “Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery,” in which Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney found that black-identified names (including her own) frequently generated Google ads like “Lakisha Simmons, Arrested?” while white-identified names did not.
More on Frank Pasquale’s ‘Black Box Society’ here.
At ‘Africa Is A Country’, Siddhartha Mitter discusses Max Fisher‘s article ‘A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries’, derived from World Values Survey data:
We are left with a shiny color-coded “fascinating map” on the Washington Post site that sends a strong message of Western, Anglo-Saxon moral superiority, assorted with a mystifying portrayal of the rest of the world, and accompanied by near-gibberish interpretations – all based on a methodological process that fails pretty much every standard of social-science design and data hygiene. In other words, pseudo-analysis that ends up, whether by design or by accident, playing into an ideological agenda.