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The Future Does Not Compute by Stephen L. Talbott

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments.

Chapter 1. Can Human Ideals Survive the Internet?

The Internet has become the most highly perfected means yet for the scattering of the self beyond recall. Unless we can recollect ourselves in the presence of our intelligent artifacts, we have no future.

PART 1. MAN, COMPUTERS, AND COMMUNITY

Chapter 2. The Machine in the Ghost

The one sure thing about the computer's future is that we will behold our own reflection in it. What I really fear is the hidden and increasingly powerful machine within *us*, of which the machines we create are an outward expression. Machines become a threat when they embody our limitations without our being fully aware of those limitations.

Chapter 3. The Future Does Not Compute

Computers will do us no good if they shape our thinking so thoroughly to the past that our courage fails us when it comes time to break the machine and declare for the unjustifiable.

Chapter 4. Settlers in Cyberspace

The lone Chinese standing in front of a tank on Tienanmen Square symbolized the fact that something in the human being -- some remaining spark of innocence and hope and bravery -- held more promise for the future of society than all the mechanisms of raw, earthly power.

Chapter 5. On Being Responsible for Earth

If we trash the current technology without changing our habits of mind, we will simply invent a new prison for ourselves using whatever materials are at hand. But if we *can* change ourselves, then Jerry Mander's argument that many technological products have a fixed, irremediable bias and should therefore be shunned loses its validity.

Chapter 6. Networks and Communities

It is not particularly surprising that in a culture widely cited for its loss of community, the word “community” itself should come in for heavy use. The more we lack something, the more we may be fascinated by fragmentary glimpses of it.

Chapter 7. At the Fringe of Freedom

It is strange that in a society founded so centrally on the creative initiative and freedom of the individual, we should today find this same individual so utterly helpless before the most urgent social problems.

Chapter 8. Things That Run by Themselves

The power of the computer-based organization to sustain itself in a semisomnambulistic manner, free of conscious, *present* control -- while yet maintaining a certain internal, logical coherence -- is increasing to a degree we have scarcely begun to fathom.

Chapter 9. Do We Really Want a Global Village?

Perhaps it is merely a ghastly sense for the ironic that prompts us to hail the birth of the global village just as villages around the world are self-destructing. But could it be that what we so eagerly welcome, unawares, are the powers of dissolution themselves?

Chapter 10. Thoughts on a Group Support System

The distortions and constraints of group support software can help us answer the question, “What distinguishes the human-centered organization from a mechanism?”

Chapter 11. In Summary

The attempt to sum the advantages and disadvantages associated with computers is itself a sign of how far we have already succumbed to the computational paradigm. Whereas my own strong predilection is to *argue the facts*, I should instead seek to *awaken*. Awakenings prepare the way for a new future, and for different facts.

PART 2: COMPUTERS IN EDUCATION

Chapter 12. Net-based Learning Communities

If I need to find out whether a child will become a good world citizen, don't show me a file of her email correspondence. Just let me observe her behavior on the playground for a few minutes.

Chapter 13. Impressing the Science out of Children

There is a difference between “special effects wonder” and the true wonder that leads toward a devout scientific curiosity. The latter grows from an awareness of one's immediate connection to the world -- from a sense that the inner essence of what one is looking at is somehow connected to the inner essence of oneself.

Chapter 14. Children of the Machine

Through education based on computer programming, the child loses -- never having fully developed it in the first place -- that fluid, imaginative ability to let experience reshape itself in meaningful ways before she carves out of it a set of atomic facts.

PART 3. THE ELECTRONIC WORD

Chapter 15. Dancing with My Computer

Have you noticed the typing habits of computer engineers?

Chapter 16. The Tyranny of the Detached Word

It is difficult to resist the pull of the computer away from active thinking and toward mere association, convention, and formal abstraction.

Chapter 17. The Great Information Hunt

It really is amazing, this odd acquisitiveness with which hordes of academics, engineers, cyberpunks, and self-advertised “infonauts” roam the Net, looking for treasure-troves of information, like so much gold. They hear the cry -- “There's information in them thar nodes!” -- and the rush is on.

Chapter 18. And the Word Became Mechanical

*Seeming* to be alien, a hollow physical token and nothing more, approaching us only as a powerless shape from without, the word nevertheless has its way with us. We detach the word from ourselves and it overpowers us from the world.

Chapter 19. Listening for the Silence

The frightening prospect for so-called cyberspace is that it will fade into a mere disjunction of subjective universes as each of us encases himself within a solipsistic cocoon.

PART 4. OWEN BARFIELD, COMPUTERS, AND THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Chapter 20. Awaking from the Primordial Dream

Our awareness sharpens, becoming clearer and more wakeful, by virtue of its contraction from the periphery -- from dream-like entanglement in the world -- to a focused center. But the uttermost center of a circle is a null point. Might we become so radically detached from the surrounding world that we can no longer find our way back to it? Might we, in the end, wake up to nothing at all?

Chapter 21. Mona Lisa's Smile

Behind the success of every new Stephen King movie, every advance in special effects, is there a secret hope and fear that the effects might somehow burst through into reality, and that some ancient Harpy might suddenly reach out and *grab* us? Is it our real yearning simply to become *alive* again, and to know the world as living?

Chapter 22. Seeing in Perspective

Did God create the world in linear perspective?

Chapter 23. Can We Transcend Computation?

The decisive limits upon machine intelligence were clarified early in this century by Owen Barfield's study of language.

Chapter 24. Electronic Mysticism

Scholars and engineers hover like winged angels over a high-tech cradle, singing the algorithms and structures of their minds into silicon receptacles, and eagerly nurturing the first glimmers of intelligence in the machine-child. Or are they instead draining the sources of wisdom from their own minds?

Chapter 25. What This Book Was About

A more orderly attempt to sum things up.

APPENDICES

Appendix A. Owen Barfield: The Evolution of Consciousness

*How* we think is at least as important as *what* we think.

Appendix B. From Virtual to Real

We are surrounded with exteriors into which we have breathed our own peculiar interiors. That is what virtual realities are. But that, Barfield urges us to remember, is also what the physical world is.

Appendix C. Education Without Computers

(An introduction to Waldorf education.) The true human capacities pass through dramatic transformations. What we sow in the child must sink down into his being in seedlike child-forms before it can emerge again, mature, and flower into an adult capacity.

Bibliography.

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