[Reader-list] Alternative software

Are Flagan areflagan at artpanorama.com
Mon Dec 2 03:12:40 IST 2002

[The below is a response from Mark Crosby. -af]

+ + + + +

It was interesting to read Are Flagan's "The Forbidden
Fruits of Computing" just after having read Kevin
Kelly's latest article, "God is Machine", in the
Dec.2002 _Wired_ (10.12) at

--- Are Flagan <areflagan at artpanorama.com> wrote:
> The relations Turing desired in computing ...
> spoke of a sexual difference--subtly restated in his
> choice of sex to determine human intelligence in the
> Turing Test--that cautiously countered the machine's
> universality. [cut]
> When Turing took a bite of the cyanide-laced apple,
> he chewed a chunk of that encounter in the Garden of
> Eden, which punished curiosity when it interfered
> with commands; he tarnished the purity of Snow White
> and the gravity of Newton's eureka that found
> enlightenment through reason. In computing, there
> should always be a lingering aftertaste--a
> mortality--that recalls the tang of sweet and bitter
> juices Turing must have savored as he pondered the
> fruits of his work, in that final system failure.


Are, this is a great 'punch-line' and deserves to be
developed, but it didn't seem to me that your
discussion of Turing's AI work really supported this.
I see no reason why you come to "The troubling
conclusion" that a universal system "subsists ...
under the umbrella of a mastermind". The controls are
rather 'immanent', built-in, distributed throughout..

Of course Capitalism is TRYING to build a
"universalized norm ... representing a common
denominative being that does not depart from the
average buit rather adheres to it in every respect".
BUT, transcendentalists have been trying this ever
since the Tower of Babel and Plato's Republic, without
ever being successful - because the world doesnt work
this way or resists.. And to say that "proprietary
software mirrors this state", seems to confuse
proprietary with monopolistic and monolithic (before
MicroSoft there were MULTITUDES of proprietary
languages, each babbling in their own idioms ;)

You say that the virtual machines "all adhere to the
same universalized principles of an absolute
decidability". Kevin Kelly's references to leading
computationalists Ed Fredkin and David Deutsch also
make similar claims, that "All computation is one".

Kelly's "God is the Machine" zooms in first on Ed
Fredkin's cellular automata universe and questions of
'implementation': "Fredkin says that all this work
happens on the 'Other'. The Other, he says, could be
another universe ... It's just not in this universe,
and so he doesn't care too much about it". David
Deutsch, Kelly reports, "has a different theory...
Since computation is absolutely independent of the
'hardware' it runs on, studying it can tell us nothing
about the nature or existence of that platform.
Deutsch concludes it does not exist: 'The universe is
not a program running somewhere else. It is a
universal computer, and there is nothing outside of

This was Spinoza's heresy.. But Kelly seems to be
garbling something here: if there is "nothing outside
of it" then how could "computation [be] absolutely
independent of the 'hardware'"? Tommaso Toffoli, "a
quantum computer researcher", gushes that "all we can
do is 'hitch a ride' on this huge, ongoing Great
Computation". With Modernism, the world was passive
under our great conquering egos; now, in this
post-modern reversal, we just lay back and let the
machines 'take care' of us!

So we might be tempted to say that Kevin Kelly's "God
is the Machine" is a bit hyped over "the mystical
doctrine of universal computation" when increasingly
research notes that instantiation DOES matter,
especially if 'there is no outside'.

A much better understanding of the issues coming to
dominate computationalism can be obtained from a
volume called _Computationalism: New Directions_,
edited by Matthias Scheutz, much of which can be
scavenged online (see below). Aaron Sloman's chapter
in this volume goes so far as to assert, "The
Irrelevance of Turing Machines to Artificial
Intelligence". While Sloman deals with NEED in AI
(utilitarian affect), there's also DESIRE in AI (cf,
Sherry Turkle's 2002 Freud Lecture, "Whether
Psychoanalysis in a Computer Culture?"
or Mark Pesce's Playful Worlds
http://www.playfulworld.com/ ;)

Turkle's article (on "evocative objects" and
"possibilities for narcissistic experience with
machines") might be especially useful for your
"Forbidden Fruits" theme!

But Kevin Kelly's "God is the Machine" exhibits many
of the "dissociations" discussed by Phil Agre's
chapter, "The Practical Logic of Computer Work" where
he concludes: "Running through all of the
dissociations I mentioned is a recurring theme, a kind
of transcendentalism that attempts to hold something
apart from and above material reality... The
dissociations portray the world as a negative, chaotic
principle and the mind as a positive ordering
principle... it doesn't work that way. If not for the
positive ordering principles inherent in the world
itself, life would be impossible".
- Mark

      _Computationalism: New Directions_
          edited by Matthias Scheutz

Chapter 1. MATTHIAS SCHEUTZ - Computationalism: The
Next Generation

Chapter 2. BRIAN CANTWELL SMITH - The Foundations of

Chapter 3. B. JACK COPELAND - Narrow Versus Wide

Chapter 4. AARON SLOMAN - The Irrelevance of Turing
Machines to Artificial Intelligence

Chapter 5. PHILIP E. AGRE - The Practical Logic of
Computer Work

Chapter 6. STEVAN HARNAD - Symbol Grounding and the
Origin of Language

Chapter 7. JOHN HAUGELAND - Authentic Intentionality


Note: Only the URLs for ch.s 3, 4, 7 are not the
actual text being referred to. However, the PDF slide
show listed under ch.4 is actually by Sloman and
Scheutz, but provides a nice history of the evolution
of "virtual machine functionalism"..

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