Hello my lovelies,
After a couple days of bright sun and blissfully warm temperatures, the Tulsa weather has reverted to its preferred status of dreary cold. That, as usual, means that I hole up in my apartment with a warm beverage and try to do homework/waste time online/eat leftover chocolate cake/blog random and ridiculous things. So far I am succeeding on all of those fronts.
I have a few things to say about the honors readings this week and some tangential thoughts interspersed. My entry will be Wiener-biased, since the majority of the reading was centered on his book. WARNING: this blog post is video-heavy.
Firstly, however, I must mention that reading Wiener became very distracting when he got into the idea of sense organs in machines and pattern transmission. He contrasts dancing figures on a music box with the “behavior of man, or indeed of any moderately intelligent animal” (p 9). The music-box figures move based upon a set pattern, and the transmission of the pattern stops there. They do not vary; past or future actions don’t matter; they do not respond back to the command or have any interaction with the outside world. A moderately intelligent animal has sense organs that receive messages, which may vary, and turns these patterns into actions which may also vary. It also can send messages back, and does not run on an automated, closed system like the music box. Why was this distracting? Because Wiener’s example was a kitten, which provided such an adorable image, that paying attention to explanations of interior patterns became somewhat tedious. Focus on how the kitten’s paw motion is informed by “proprioceptors or kinasesthetic organs” (10), or just imagine a kitten batting a piece of yarn? It was hard to move past the latter.
So my apologies for that absolutely ridiculous tangent, but I partially blame Wiener.
Back to non-kitten related stuff. I have to say that I enjoyed this week’s readings more than any of our previous ones, even if it became somewhat tedious. In my first-year seminar class, I had to write a research paper on artificial intelligence in film and in reality, and so I got to learn a great deal about machines and how they learn. I also got to write seriously about the Roomba.
OH NO WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?!
Humblest, humblest apologies and sincerest regrets. This is embarrassing after all the high-minded art vs. entertainment discussions of the past few weeks. Onward to higher things!
[Honestly, this is where I get serious.]
Wiener as well as Shannon and Weaver take a look at communication in its technical and mechanical senses, which allowed me to draw from both my first-year seminar course and from my experience as a communicator (English major) in understanding their works. While both discuss in depth their ideas of communication, the components therein, and the transmission of information, Wiener focuses on broader ideas of communication machines and their implications. What I found particularly fascinating was his ultimate political conclusion that the use of humans in a “machine”–bureaucracy or large organizations that create patterned responses–is just as potentially harmful as a world physically run by physical, programmed machines (213). As Wiener notes, a world of this kind with mechanized communication requires “know-what”: the consequences of this machinery, what questions to ask, and precise directives (212). Because of mechanized responses, and the possible imprecision of human commands, nasty consequences could occur. Did you see the new Tron movie? Because Flynn’s (Jeff Bridges’ character) big mistake was telling his program-double, Clu, to create the perfect system. “Perfect” meant a perfectly programmed system, sans those sometimes-irrational, and non-mechanistic creatures known as humans:
Okay, so there are way better sci-fi movies with the exact same idea, but I’ve been on a Jeff Bridges kick lately. The point is (and I think Wiener’s point) is that a mechanized system is not bad, and can be incredibly efficient IF we know how to control them, that is if we know exactly what message to send to obtain a precise, desired result: “Control, in other words, is nothing but the sending of messages which effectively change the behavior of the recipient” (8) When interacting with a learning machine that responds to directives and memory, whether a chess-machine or a huge organization, we have to make sure we keep sending it the right messages so that it both learns the correct behavior (memory) and follows our rules. What’s more, we have to make sure those messages are clear and precise, so that they can “change the behavior of the recipient” if need be.
Shannon and Weaver are less concerned with such grand warnings, but nonetheless provide information (in the conventional sense; not theirs) that contributes to Wiener’s ideas. Shannon and Weaver focus on communication problems and the interference that occurs because of “noise” and other issues. Their ideas reinforce Wiener’s emphasis on communication and control: “. . . it is clear that communication either affects conduct or is without any discernible and probably effect at all” (159). It seems, for S & W, communication inherently involves some kind of control (or effect on conduct) for it to be communication. Noise, however, (extra messages),creates more freedom of choice (or more information) and thus makes communication (or control) uncertain. In the case of Wiener’s ideas on machines, this is a bit of a problem. It means imprecision and unpredictable results on the part of the receiver, that is, a lack of control in the sending of a message.
Besides their relation in terms of control, Wiener and S & W have similar notions of the levels of language or communication; though they differ in Wiener’s addition of a phonetic step. I thought it might be useful to have a little chart, just for compare/contrast purposes:
I’m glad I could put my Paint skills to use. Anyway, those are most of my thoughts on this week’s authors. Other thoughts been floating through my brain, but they are still in the formation stages. I think I’ll call it a night.
To close out, I will leave you with one more little video that Wiener brought to mind.
Wiener wrote a great deal about a chess-machine that he and others had been working on. Chess made me think Josh Groban. Why? Chess, the musical, in concert in 2008, at Victoria and Albert Hall, with Mr. Groban himself! What’s more, the show ties nicely into the rest of the honors readings (well, the Marxists) with its focus on Cold War politics and communism. Check out the musical. At least check out Groban’s epic rendition of “Anthem” (and turn up the volume!):
Pip, pip cheerio!
[N.B. – Citations to come soon! I gotta go though!]