No, robots will never win the World Cup

A tidy little BBC reiteration of the AI/robotics first-step fallacy, identified as such by the late Hubert Dreyfus in *1972*. And he was able to call it then, as I have argued in The Mirror of Information, because it was already old news at that time–going back to the very origins of modern computing! No, geeks, having taken the first step does not mean that the rest will, or even can, follow! Otherwise, as Dreyfus put it, the first person to climb a tree could claim to have made tangible progress toward reaching the moon!

The continuity and consistency of this fantasy technological discourse, since the early 1950s, are absolutely astonishing. Revealing, of course, a phenomenological commitment; having nothing directly to do with technological boundary-conditions at all.

where everybody knows your name who cares

One goal of Google and the other IT hegemons, with their wearable interfaces and online glasses and enhanced realities and data-rich maps, is to make it so we are no longer alien anywhere. Thus Michael Jones of Google Maps, interviewed in The Atlantic recently, millenially and yet banally asserted that in the future, your phone or glasses or whatever will just automatically give you directions, no matter where you are, also enriching your every moment with information targetted to your exact spot and behaviorally-determined preferences — eg around which corner is to be found  a great bar, what to order, who else may be there, etc. Jones: “It’ll be like you’re a local everywhere you go.” Around every corner, be it in Beijing or Toronto or Timbuktu, you can find your Cheers.

But clearly: to be a local everywhere is to be a local nowhere. It is to lose all contact with the very notion of locality. The logic here is like the logic of being at home. Suppose that you are in your house. What are you doing? Well, among other things, you’re being at home. Now you look out the window, and see your neighbour inside his house. He is doing what you are doing: you both are being at home. But where he is at home, you would not be at home. Where you are at home, he would not be at home. Only insofar as there is not-being-at-home is there being-at-home. Only insofar as it is possible not to be a local does it matter in the slightest to be a local.

So the Google vision, which seems so light and wondrous, may be quite the opposite.

But nobody notices.

epistemological thought for the day

The very idea of a database seems to me epistemologically questionable. For the idea rests on — or, perhaps, projects — a supposition of data as finite.  For if data is infinite, then the idea of a collection of some data, presumably, is useless and stochastic. It would be like having a collection of some numbers (assuming numbers to be infinite). What’s the point? You might as well have just one — the one you are working with, when you’re trying to work out some problem. For one in the number, compared to infinity, is all you can ever have.

Only if data (in the last analysis) is finite can the idea of a database make any sense. Only if data is finite can the idea of an ever-larger database make sense. Therefore, the more committed one is to the idea of a database, the more committed one becomes to the presupposition that data is finite. In this way, every database, from the Domesday Book to Google, enforces upon us an epistemological assumption. The “bigger” the database, the more powerfully enforced is the assumption.

Do we know this assumption to be correct? Can we? I don’t know (perhaps there is an answer in theoretical physics) but I doubt it. And if not, isn’t it kind of problematic for us as a culture and society to be increasingly committed to the idea of the database? Aren’t we begging the question of what knowledge, fundamentally, is, or might be?

critical-phenomenological thought for the day

Understanding, Hans-Georg Gadamer teaches, is an event. It is an experience (Erfahrung) that we undergo: like the way a player experiences a moment in the game; or an audience member experiences the climax of a tragedy. Indeed, understanding is an experience of a very special kind, which precludes or overwhelms our front-of-mind consciousness. Gadamer points out that the player of a game, in the midst of playing it, knows in one sense “this is only a game.” Yet in another, larger, and more important sense – and this is the key point – s/he does not and cannot know that. For knowing “this is only a game” would preclude or impede effective involvement in the game. Analogously, Gadamer claims, when we are in the midst of understanding something, we know in one sense “I am currently understanding.” Yet in another, larger, and more important sense, we do not and cannot know that. For knowing, in a front-of-mind way, “I am currently understanding” would preclude or impede our being fully involved – lost, for the moment – in the understanding. And getting lost in this way is precisely part and parcel of the kind of experience that understanding is.

Now literary criticism, let’s say, is the study of texts as texts. Understanding is the fulfillment of any text. Therefore, literary criticism includes the study of understanding. (This means, for those who follow this sort of thing, that criticism subsumes hermeneutics.) To study anything is to try to understand it. Therefore, criticism has as one of its goals to understand understanding.

But if understanding is an experience, along the lines already described, then understanding understanding can only mean (1) trying to understand this very special experience and (2) doing so precisley by trying to have this experience. For there would appear to be no other way to do it. The literary-critical classroom, unlike the classrooms of other disciplines, where this or that object is examined, will be a classroom in which the experience of understanding itself is provoked, and for its own sake. The literary text, moreover, unlike texts of other kinds, will not try to present this or that object, but will try to make available the experience of understanding, just as such. Studying such a text, in such a critical mode, will be, if not the only, then probably the best, way to understand understanding.

So, like, that’s why we do it.