[Reader-list] on e-worlds

Subramanya Sastry sastry at cs.wisc.edu
Sat Dec 18 12:57:00 IST 2004

hello everyone,

here is something i wrote to my circle of friends a couple of days back --
part wordplay, part critique, part farce, part serious, ... but overall, a
ramble, but perhaps something that some might find interesting ... albeit in
bits ...


The e seems to have taken the centre stage these days.  We have e-verything
today: from e-mail, e-governance, e-commerce, e-business, e-communities,
e-forums, e-medicine, e-teaching, e-learning ... and the list only continues
to grow.  We are in the midst of e-worlds.  The seduction of the e is evident
-- but, whether we will get a relief from the I that usually dominates this
world is unclear.  Or maybe they will battle for dominance, or maybe they will
be married together to produce something else altogether?

What will the marriage of I and the e produce?  Will it be e-I, i.e. will all
of this cultimate in the electronic I, which will be the super-ego to make up
Freud's third corner after the I(d) and the e(go)?  I, e, and e-I -- seems
appropriate to recast Freud's psychology to give birth to e-Freud's
e-psychology -- well, we have always had an e-psychiatrist with us in the form
of Eliza, haven't we?  Too bad people misrepresented the attempt as AI.
Perhaps Eliza didn't realize that she really was an example of electronic
Intelligence.  Wonder if Eliza's I, its ego, (or should it be liza's e? wonder
who liza is ... ) was bruised by terming its intelligence artificial.  How
anthropocentric of us?

But, in some ways, AI is a misplaced endeavour.  It should really have been
called eI - electronic Intelligence.  As an attempt to be human, as human as
can be, AI is doomed.  How can you be human if you are artificial, and not
human?  If you want to have human intelligence and replicate it, reproduce!
It can be enjoyable too, unless you happen to be one of those repressed
types ..  hmm .. well, maybe Eliza can help you there?  But, we are digressing.
Let us get back to AI and eI.  As a complement to human intelligence, eI
perhaps seems more appropriate.  Not only does eI as a term respect the I
of the e, it also fits in so well with the latest fashion doing the rounds --
e-Intelligence.  We are far more likely to accept eI than AI ... the e is less
of a threat to the I that we humans have!  But, more seriously, the shift
from the A to the e is also more likely a shift in outlook and not just a
cosmetic change in nomenclature.

But, I wonder if the e has gone too far.  Has the e become the refuge of those
who have "failed conventionally"?  The e needs to be put back in its place
where it belongs .. back in the atom, unless you happen to be the nucelar
types, in which case .. forget putting the e back there .. you are much more
interested in smashing the atom to bits (pun unintended) .. and god save the

*** Statutory Warning: Too much e is harmful to your I, and your I's too! ***

The process of deconstructing e-worlds has to take place.  We need to reclaim
the humanist aspects of our lives -- teaching, learning, commerce, business,
communication, governance, medicine, intelligence... The e is but another tool
that can participate in these endeavours.  But, we seem to have lost track of
this in venturing too far away from our anthropocentrism. Tagging the e before
these can only serve to focus too much on the technology, and less on the
endeavour.  All of this is not to discount the power and politics of the
e-medium, and possibilities the e-technologies engender.  Yet, one should
recognize that one cannot lose track of the primacy of the endeavours within
which the technologies are situated.  In some senses, all over the world, the
public commons, public resources, and public goods are being given up, and we
are now left with the e-commons that the Internet, I-net, seems to show signs
of.  But, how long, before the I-net transitions from being an e-common,
e-public space to an e-private space?

In some ways, another way to look at the increasing focus on the e is as a
manifestation of the culture of dichotomies, in this case, the dichotomy
between the real and the illusionary (or in today's e-worlds, the real and the
electronic).  If the dichotomy did not exist, we would be perhaps focused on
governance itself, and not boost the e's ego by talking of e-governance.
Similarly, we would talk of learning, not e-learning.  But, somehow the e
seems to have gotten better of all of our I's, perhaps e-intelligence is
superior to human intellgence, after all!

Alas, we are all caught in dichotomies, aren't we?  The entire field of AI is
one that can be said to find its place in the gap created by the mind-body
divide.  If one looked at intelligence outside that framework, the fallacy
would be perhaps more apparent.  One might then focus on e-intelligence and
give e's I its due, its place in the sun, and then also subsume it within the
larger Intelligence of humanity, there would be nothing artificial about it.
Then, maybe then, the marriage of e and the I will produce something

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