A Billion Years a Week

John Ziman

  • Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age by David Bolter and A.J. Ayer
    Duckworth, 264 pp, £12.95, October 1984, ISBN 0 7156 1917 9

A computer is a tool, working the intentions of its designer or user. It is no more malevolent than the village clock whose chimes wake us in the night, or the car whose failed brakes run us down. We invest it with personality because it is an instrument of the mind, rather than of the hand. It extends and mimics the very function that has always seemed to distinguish us biologically from other organisms – the capacity to reason. At times, it almost seems as if, inside the black box, there is one of us. Computers are humanoid, too, in their versatility. Almost any computer can be instructed to do almost any one of the enormous variety of different things that computers in general can do. There has been nothing to equal it since the abolition of slavery.

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