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The Posthuman
ENGL 165EC - Spring 2003,  Rita Raley
Tue, 4/15 Humans, Are They Really Necessary?

Resources on Cybernetics Critical material on Metropolis Critical material on Kraftwerk

"Machines Smarter Than Men?" Interview with Dr. Norbert Wiener, U.S. News & World Report (February 24, 1964)

Q: Do you agree with a prediction, sometimes heard, that machines are going to be constructed that will be smarter than man?

A: May I say, if the man isn't smarter than the machine, then it's just too bad. But that isn't our being assassinated by the mchine. That will be suicide.

Q: Can you give us a look into the future?

A: I can. One of the big things about machines has been miniaturization - cutting down the size of the components. Where, at the beginning of the development of computers, a machine would have to be as big as the Empire State Building, it can be reduced now to something that you could fit into a rather small room. One of the chief factors in this miniaturization has been the introduction of new types of "memories," memories depending on solid-state physics - on transistors, and things of that sort. Now, it's becoming interesting to ask: "How does the human brain do it?" And for the first time within the last year or so, we're getting a real idea of that.
You know, genetic memory - the memory of our genes - is largely dependent on substances which are nucleic-acid complexes. Within this last year it's coming to be pretty generally suspected that the memory of the nervous system is of the same sort of thing. This is indicated by the discovery of nucleic-acid complexes in the brain and by the fact that they have the properties that would give a good memory. This is a very subtle sort of solid-state physics, like the physics which is used in the memory of machines now. My hunch is - and I'm not alone in this - that the next decade or so will see this used technically.

Q: Can you describe a computer that would use genes as a memory device? What would it be capable of?

A: That would sound too much like science fiction to talk about now.

Q: Are computers being used intelligently today?

A: In 10 per cent of the cases, yes.

Q: This is a startling low figure. Why do you say that?

A: Because it takes intelligence to know what to give the machine. And in many cases the machine is used to buy intelligence that isn't there. The computer is just as valuable as the man using it. It can allow him to cover more ground in the same time. But he's got to have the ideas. And in the early stage of testing the ideas, you shouldn't be dependent on using computers.

Q: Are these machines of the future going to take away a lot more jobs from humans?

A: They will.

Q: That will sharpen a problem that already exists. What is the solution?

A: The answer is that we can no longer value a man by the jobs he does. We've got to value him as a man. Here is the point: A whole lot of the work that we are using men for is work which really is done better by computers. That is, for a long time human energy hasn't been worth much as far as physical energy goes. A man couldn't possibly generate enough energy today to buy the food for his own body.
The actual commercial value of his services in modern culture isn't enough. If we value people, we can't value people on that basis. If we insist on using the machines everywhere, irrespective of people, and don't go to very fundamental considerations and give people their proper place in the world, we're sunk.


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