The Computer has not Helped Us to Think

It cannot do this, because basically the Computer is a calculator. It can work with vast amounts of information (referred to as Big Data) but cannot do anything else.

To explain what I mean, I must explain two things – (1) digitization, and then (2) refer you to the calculator again.

Digitization is the process of taking information and transforming it into digits – numbers. I hardly need tell you that the natural world does not consist of numbers. It consists of many things that can be detected by our senses – hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching. These are then transformed into electrical potentials for our nervous system – and processed by them.

Much of this processing occurs in the Brain – a huge organ we can barely understand – where the processing is entirely different from that which occurs in the Computer. It uses nervous impulses, the Computer uses electrical signals. Nerve impulses take milliseconds to operate – whereas electrical signals only take microseconds. The Computer is much faster.

Now I return to the Calculator – this is not a random choice, but a precise one – because the Computer is in fact a calculator – and nothing else. The Computer changes any information into numbers – in the case of audio – a long stream of numbers – and processes them. This is a point many people cannot understand – they insist that the Computer is something more that that – just what they do not know – but something else – something wonderful.

Computer professionals do not try to dissuade them – because this elevates their status also – it makes them magicians – worthy of the high salaries that they command.

I was a programmer once, and I was baffled by the huge gap between what the public believed computers were – and what computers really were – a lot of wires connecting different components – such as the hard drives, which were huge things at the time. This has now been miniaturized, so that my laptop computer now does the same thing as rooms full of equipment used to.

People will ask “Is this not a miracle?” I can only answer “No, it only looks like a miracle to you. It is in fact, millions of tiny circuits performing very simple tasks at very high speeds.” This will not change their minds – who will see miracles being performed right before their eyes. On their little hand-held device that can do anything.

This brings me to a point I am reluctant to share – these smart devices have made people stupid. How this happens I do not know – but I know for sure that it happens. And happens rapidly, in only a few years.

The big picture here is not hard to explain. In the 20th Century, we were hit by networked technologies (the Radio, Television, and then the Computer) that we could not understand, or cope with. The only ones who could understand it were the terrorists – who promptly formed their own networks.

And the very rich, who owned the TV networks – and could use them, as propaganda, to further their economic interests. In many countries the situation was even worse – the governments, who were corrupt – own the TV networks, and can use them, successfully, to deceive their people.

An example of bad planning, on a global scale – is The New Panama Canal: A Risky Bet in the NY Times. I grew up near a dam on the Mississippi River, and even worked there one summer, when I was an engineering student. That dam, built in 1917, used faulty concrete also, and it is continually being resurfaced to keep it from washing away.

We keep thinking Technology will save us – when it only makes us worse.

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