Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology

Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology

by Edward Ashford Lee

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Overview

How humans and technology evolve together in a creative partnership.

In this book, Edward Ashford Lee makes a bold claim: that the creators of digital technology have an unsurpassed medium for creativity. Technology has advanced to the point where progress seems limited not by physical constraints but the human imagination. Writing for both literate technologists and numerate humanists, Lee makes a case for engineering—creating technology—as a deeply intellectual and fundamentally creative process. Explaining why digital technology has been so transformative and so liberating, Lee argues that the real power of technology stems from its partnership with humans.

Lee explores the ways that engineers use models and abstraction to build inventive artificial worlds and to give us things that we never dreamed of—for example, the ability to carry in our pockets everything humans have ever published. But he also attempts to counter the runaway enthusiasm of some technology boosters who claim everything in the physical world is a computation—that even such complex phenomena as human cognition are software operating on digital data. Lee argues that the evidence for this is weak, and the likelihood that nature has limited itself to processes that conform to today's notion of digital computation is remote.

Lee goes on to argue that artificial intelligence's goal of reproducing human cognitive functions in computers vastly underestimates the potential of computers. In his view, technology is coevolving with humans. It augments our cognitive and physical capabilities while we nurture, develop, and propagate the technology itself. Complementarity is more likely than competition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262536424
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Series: The MIT Press
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,216,242
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Edward Ashford Lee is Distinguished Professor (Emeritus) in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, where he runs iCyPhy, a research center focused on industrial cyber-physical systems. He is the author of Plato and the Nerd (MIT Press) and other books.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

I Yang 1

1 Shadows on the Wall 3

1.1 Nerds 3

1.2 Artificial and Natural 7

1.3 Design and Discovery 10

1.4 Engineering and Science 16

2 Inventing Laws of Nature 27

2.1 The Unknown Knowns 27

2.2 Models of Nature 31

2.3 Models Are Wrong 41

3 Models of Models of Models of Models of Things 47

3.1 Technological Tapestries 47

3.2 Complexity Simplified 49

3.3 Transitivity of Models 53

3.4 Reductionism 58

4 Hardware Is Ephemeral 61

4.1 Hard and Soft 61

4.2 Semiconductors 63

4.3 Digital Switches 65

4.4 Logic Gates 66

4.5 Logic Diagrams 69

4.6 Digital Machines 71

5 Software Endures 75

5.1 Self-Scaffolding 75

5.2 Instruction Set Architectures 78

5.3 Programming Languages 81

5.4 Operating Systems 90

5.5 Libraries, Languages, and Dialects 91

5.6 The Cloud 96

6 Evolution and Revolution 101

6.1 Normal Engineering 101

6.2 Crisis and Failure 103

6.3 Crisis and Opportunity 113

6.4 Models in Crisis 115

II Yin 123

7 Information 125

7.1 Pessimism Becomes Optimism 125

7.2 Information-Processing Machines 127

7.3 Measuring Information 129

7.4 Continuous Information 134

8 The Limits of Software 143

8.1 Universal Machines? 143

8.2 Undecidability 147

8.3 Cardinality 155

8.4 Digital Physics? 161

9 Symbiosis 171

9.1 The Notion of a Continuum 171

9.2 The Impossible Becomes Possible 174

9.3 Digital Psyche? 178

9.4 Symbiotic Partnership 184

9.5 Incompleteness 186

10 Determinism 195

10.1 Laplace's Demon 195

10.2 The Butterfly Effect 203

10.3 Incompleteness of Determinism 208

10.4 The Hard and the Soft of Determinism 215

11 Probability and Possibility 219

11.1 The Bayesians and the Frequentists 219

11.2 Continuums, Again 229

11.3 Impossibility and Improbability 232

12 Final Thoughts 237

12.1 Dualism 237

12.2 Obstacles 240

12.3 Autonomy and Intelligence 247

Bibliography 251

Index 259

What People are Saying About This

Janos Sztipanovits

Lee's book is a brilliant articulation of the unique and increasingly important role technology plays in the evolution of mankind. He offers a deeply optimistic perspective with clarity and intellectual rigor without ever losing accessibility.

From the Publisher

Lee's book is a brilliant articulation of the unique and increasingly important role technology plays in the evolution of mankind. He offers a deeply optimistic perspective with clarity and intellectual rigor without ever losing accessibility.

Janos Sztipanovits , E. Bronson Ingram Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

Edward Ashford Lee has written a wise and witty book that is truly delightful to read, arguing beautifully for the deep connection between human cognition and technology.

Schahram Dustdar , Professor of Computer Science, TU Wien, Austria

In every decent bookstore, you find shelves full of volumes written by top mathematicians, physicists, and biologists explaining the state of the art in their field and its impact on the human condition. This book is important because it is high time for computer scientists and engineers to do the same.

Thomas A. Henzinger , President, IST Austria

Endorsement

In every decent bookstore, you find shelves full of volumes written by top mathematicians, physicists, and biologists explaining the state of the art in their field and its impact on the human condition. This book is important because it is high time for computer scientists and engineers to do the same.

Thomas A. Henzinger, President, IST Austria

Thomas A. Henzinger

In every decent bookstore, you find shelves full of volumes written by top mathematicians, physicists, and biologists explaining the state of the art in their field and its impact on the human condition. This book is important because it is high time for computer scientists and engineers to do the same.

Schahram Dustdar

Edward Ashford Lee has written a wise and witty book that is truly delightful to read, arguing beautifully for the deep connection between human cognition and technology.

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