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Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds
Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds

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7 Crossing the boundary – a final word

The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do.

(B.F. Skinner, Contingencies of Reinforcement)

We feel the machine slipping from our hands

As if someone else were steering;

If we see light at the end of the tunnel,

It's the light of the oncoming train

(Robert Lowell, Since 1939)

If you persist with your study of computing – and I hope you will – you will soon come across what I call the ‘gee-whizzer’. Gee-whizzers talk and write about computers in a special way. Their attitude seems to be approximately as follows. Everything to do with computers is endlessly ‘cool'; every advance in computer technology is a major breakthrough which will utterly change the world (and always for the better). People who even mildly question the value of certain technological innovations are considered reactionary.

But I hope you will, as thoughtful people, read what I have written about in this course with a more sceptical eye – as I do. Not every scientific advance is a benefit, and every new tool the human race has invented, since Neolithic times, has done some harm to the world, as well as good.

Exercise 18

You may wish to think about the following questions. There are no easy answers but you may like to post your thoughts onto the forums and talk about them with other people.

  1. The dangers of universal access to information.

  2. The social and political significance of virtual worlds.

  3. How far can we trust computer information?

I don't, however, want to end on a negative note. This is an exciting time. Computers have opened windows on nature and on society that we could never have believed possible. They have genuinely revolutionised the world. And all through the power of the humble 1 and 0.