Daniel White – Week 9 Blog Post: Computers Are Dumb

When I was a junior in high school, I had an English teacher who would always stress the importance of reading back through our papers carefully and editing them for any subtle typos or grammatical errors that spellcheck may have missed.  He would say, “Check your paper for typos!  Spellcheck doesn’t get everything.  It is a computer and it is dumb.”  He was a fantastic teacher and a great guy, but it always bothered me when he said this.

I guess I just grew up believing that computers knew more than humans, that they could never be wrong.  Obviously I know that spellcheck isn’t 100% accurate all the time—no, I do not want to capitalize that word, stop asking me to—but in general computing efficiency and reasoning, computers seemed pretty infallible.  I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I feel as though most people my age and in my generation grew up thinking the same thing, that computers were superior to humans in knowledge, computing power, and intelligence.

The section ‘Procedural and Descriptive Markup’ from this week’s reading stuck out to me.  I couldn’t help but think of my teacher’s claims of how computers were dumb (or at least imperfect) when reading about how “Computers…need to be informed about these issues [such as how to interpret italics] in order to be able to process them.”  The reading explains how humans “Through their cognitive abilities…usually have no problems selecting the most appropriate interpretation of an italic string of text,” because we have human reasoning that includes things like context, past experience, and inferencing.  Computers can’t do all of these things on their own.  They need to be told what to do, how to think.  And who’s telling these computers how to think and work and process information?  Humans.  Human computer coders are the real brains behind the “intelligence” of a computer, not the computer itself.

I think this is what my teacher was getting at.  Of course computers are extremely good at guessing and predicting (and they only get better as technology advances—I mean, just look at how autocorrect improves with every phone update), but computers can only guess and predict and compute as well as their coders.  My teacher knew that there would inevitably be flaws within this computer coding, so he warned us all to be cautious and not rely 100% on computers for catching every little mistake of ours.

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2 Responses to Daniel White – Week 9 Blog Post: Computers Are Dumb

  1. Krista Harder says:

    Your concept of the idea of the human within the computer is so interesting because I think it’s something that we rarely stop to consider. Growing up, I thought just like you did. I thought that computers were, although emotionally incapable, superiorly intelligent in every other regard. But humans invented computers, and that’s why there’s rhetoric hidden within every aspect of even the seemingly objective nature of computers. We take it for granted that computers can understand and do almost anything, but we forget that humans were required to make that possible, and that the computer is a machine made by humans for humans. Technology is never completely objective or independent of our thoughts and biases. Even technology is flawed.

  2. Olivia Henley says:

    I grew up thinking differently. Well, sort of. I was told by my older brother–whom I trust with everything–that “computers are only as smart as the user/people who make them.” I grew up knowing that someone had to make this technology and someone had to write the codes, read the codes, create the story I’m reading on a website and someone had to create the website. I understood all of this.

    That never stopped me though, from neglecting thinking about the fact that humans have the capacity to understand while humans must tell computers how to understand and interpret. That’s what I liked about your blog post, it made that distinction incredibly clear. Not only that, but I neglected to think about the fact that there might be flaws in computer coding. I knew humans were flawed, I knew humans made these machines, but I never put together that humans could leave traces of their flaws in these machines. Mind. Blown.

    It’s curious to think that we separate ourselves from machines, when machines are our byproduct. They don’t have feelings and emotions, but they’re an extension of us. Its funny that that’s where my thoughts went reading this post, but that’s where I ended up.

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