Generative Structure

McCullough writes a lot about generative structure, drawing on Chomsky and Piaget. While generative structure may no longer be a satisfactory explanation for human language, McCullough sees is as a principle of computing media.

“We have seen the role of structure, particularly generative structure, in several contexts already: the syntax of notation, the design of an interface, the constructions of a type, the essence of a medium. In each of these contexts, structure is revealed in transformation.” (p. 232 of Abstracting Craft)

We learn about the structure of digital media by playing with it – by playing with a software package and seeing what sorts of transformations happen when we try different features. (See the section “Generative Structure” in the chapter “Symbols” – starting page 98.)

This connects to play and games. Generative structures provide the constraints that make play possible and open the possibilities that give play meaning.
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Conscious Machines

Would it be possible to make a machine conscious? Obviously I am not going to solve this, but what if we played with the idea. Lets say that consciousness is:

1. Attentive memory – a space of memory that is attentive to things from the outside. It can be distracted, redirected by strong input from outside.
2. Continuous attention – a continuous attention to things over time
3. Private attention – a thinking that is not accessible in the same way to others
4. Reflective – an attention that can take itself and its short term contents as subject for attention
5. Associative – a thinking that brings in new items by association. Note that the associative process is outside consciousness – it feeds consciousness but isn’t of it.
6. Willful – a thinking that can control itself to some degree, but not totally. The control emanates in balance from consciousness.
7. It would think of its thinking as I, itself.

So can we create a program that would fit some of these characteristics. It would serve no purpose other than to run continuously. It would manage a space of memory not accessible to others. It would be capable of being distracted, of making associations, and of willfuling responding.
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Tool and Technology

The third chapter in Abstracting Craft on “Tools” has definitions of technology and tool suited for discussing software and computers as craft tools. Some of the key terms he covers are:

Tool, Technology, Instrument, Probe, Mechanism, Machine, Engine, Power, Technique, Medium, and Artifact

“A tool is a moving entity whose use is initiated and actively guided by a human being, for whom it acts as an extension, toward a specific purpose.” (p. 68, McCullough).
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