Re: Fwd: Lanier essay of 2001.12.04

From: Dossy (
Date: Wed Dec 05 2001 - 13:34:42 MST

On 2001.12.05, Michael M. Butler <> wrote:
> [12.4.01] One of the striking things about being a computer scientist
> in this age is that all sorts of other people are happy to tell us
> that what we do is the central metaphor of everything, which is very
> ego gratifying. [...]

Perhaps this is because computers are a general-purpose tool that
is used by humans and therefore computing models resemble human
processes in order to assist humans effectively?

> Then I became concerned for a different reason which was pragmatic and
> immediate: I became convinced that the overuse of the computational
> metaphor was actually harming the quality of the present-day design of
> computer systems.

While I believe I agree with Jaron here, it's for reasons different
to his.

He talks about how the notion of "files" as an organizational model
for information has become ingrained within the framework of the
modern computing model precludes us from introducing new and
potentially better organizational models. I find someone of his
reputation and accomplishments to ever make a statement that sounds
so opposed to the notion of "innovation against the odds." Perhaps
what really needs to be asked is, "How did we end up using the
'files' metaphor over all others?"

If someone did suggest a better metaphor for information storage
and management, would our collective complacency with our existing
technological status prevent us from even exploring it? I think
Jaron's suggesting that the answer is yes. Scary thing is, I
think he might be right.

In the current day, when massive amounts of information can be
stored and processed in reasonable time given today's availble
computing power, it's time we moved away from looking at computers
from the "how" to the "what" or "why" ... we have been building
computers to be better and better at understanding how we do
things -- in other words, executing pre-described processes --
and not about what we do or why we do them. Yes, there's work
being done on semantic webs and artificial intelligence is
a well established field, but they're still both exercises in
telling computers how things are done. We haven't even begun
the process of trying to explain to computers what is going on
or why things are happening.

What we've been working on and building all these years are
just 'computers' -- literally -- that follow processes and
manipulate data in a thoughtless fashion. In this direction,
Moore's Law (well, prediction) may hold true. It will not
be until we move away from building better 'computers' (things
that just compute) and start building a true learning machine
that we'll really see the next breakthrough.

I don't know where the start is, or where it could possibly
end, but I'd like to be there to see how it unfolds.

Perhaps a good first step is to stop treating information
as second-class "files" and instead as first-class "objects"
in a large-scale object hierarchy. Very frightening, but
that's where I'd take my money if I had to.

-- Dossy

Still waiting for someone to implement a fully tele-immersive brothel.
The adult entertainment industry needs another technological boost
beyond plain multimedia streaming, and "smell-o-vision" just isn't
good enough.

Dossy Shiobara                       mail: 
Panoptic Computer Network             web: 
  "He realized the fastest way to change is to laugh at your own
    folly -- then you can let go and quickly move on." (p. 70)

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