IEEE Spectrum: Ray Kurzweil’s Slippery Futurism

From Slashdot I was led to a great critique of Kurzweil’s futurism, see the IEEE Spectrum: Ray Kurzweil’s Slippery Futurism. I’ve tried to tackle Kurzweil in previous posts here (on Singularity University), but never quite nailed his form of prediction the way John Rennie does.

Therein lie the frustrations of Kurzweil’s brand of tech punditry. On close examination, his clearest and most successful predictions often lack originality or profundity. And most of his predictions come with so many loopholes that they border on the unfalsifiable. Yet he continues to be taken seriously enough as an oracle of technology to command very impressive speaker fees at pricey conferences, to author best-selling books, and to have cofounded Singularity University, where executives and others are paying quite handsomely to learn how to plan for the not-too-distant day when those disappearing computers will make humans both obsolete and immortal.

Tom McCarthy: International Necronautical Society

One of the people short-listed for the Man Booker prize is Tom McCarthy who, among other things created the International Necronautical Society. This “semi-ficticious organization” reminds me of OULIPO. They are “in our house” and recruiting. They have a lovely Joint Statement on Inauthenticity. A necronaut according to the Urban Dictionary is an “Annoying hacker and general asshole in Counter-Strike and other online games.” Or it could be someone who navigates death.

They have a Twitter feed,

Gary Hall: Digitize this book

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog entry about Gary Hall’s book Digitize This Book! I noted that I couldn’t find a digitized copy of the book and asked if others knew of one. To my surprise Gary wrote me back and pointed to the items listed below. Now that is the Internet at work! He is trying to get the publisher to allow a digital copy to be posted online, but in the meantime pointed out online versions of what became chapters in the book:

(2003) ‘Digitise This’, Mediactive, Vol. 1, No. 1 (pp. 76-90); republished in (2004), The Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1, January-March (pp. 23-46) at (MS Word Document)

(2007) ‘IT, Again: or, How to Build an Ethical Virtual Institution’, in Experimenting: Essays With Samuel Weber, edited by Gary Hall and Simon Morgan Wortham (Fordham University Press: New York) (pp.116-140) at (MS Word Document)

Gary Hall says that “Since the book came out I’ve also published a new piece on open access publishing and the humanities” at A video of him presenting it as a talk is available at Pirate Philosophy – Steal This! .

I take back any irony in my previous post. (Can one take back irony? Perhaps I can only apologize for being ironic to early.)

Pliny: Welcome

Screen Shot of Pliny Pliny, the annotation and note management tool by John Bradley at King’s College London just got a Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration.

The Mellon Awards honour not-for-profit organisations for leadership in the collaborative development of open source software tools with application to scholarship in the arts and humanities, as well as cultural-heritage not-for-profit activities.

Pliny is free and you can try it out on the Mac or PC. John has thought a lot about how tools fit in the research process of humanists.

Seminar: The writer and the society of communication

Domenico Fiormonte drew my attention to an interesting seminar coming up next week in Valencia at the Menéndez Pelayo International University (UIMP) on Editando al autor. El escritor en la sociedad de la communicación (PDF). The seminar brings together editors, authors, new media researchers and philologists on the subject of the writer in a society of communication.

Domenico has an interesting web site Digital Variants which makes available various the writings (and variants) of various contemporary Italian and Spanish authors. On the Digital Variants site they are experimenting with systems of frames to allow readers to compare variants. Here is one example of a Vincenzo Cerami Variants Machine
created by Mario Macciocca.

Walter Ong Defining the Humanities for Congress

Man can even reflect upon his own earlier reflections as these are registered in books and elsewhere. All this is what ultimately the humanistic subjects deal with: Mankind’s life world, [page break] everything around and in men and women insofar as it affects or is affected by human consciousness.

The humanities–and I think we should get this clear–are not defined by being set against a field of science and technology presumably hostile to them. This is a fashionable, but essentially cheap, way of treated both fields.Walter Ong, “Defining the Humanities for Congress”

Browsing through the Notes from the Walter Ong Collection I came across an extended quote from Ong’s address to Congress from 1978 when he was president of the MLA. The address was in support of a resolution to authorize the President to call a conference on the humanities. Walter Ong quotes a definition of the humanities which he wants to play with,

The joint resolution introduced by Mr. Brademas on October 27, 1977, in the House of Representatives follows Congress description of 1965 in stating that:

“The term “humanities” includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history, jurisprudence; philosophy; archeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism, theory, and practice of the arts; those aspects of the social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

He then goes on to conclude,

However, if the humanities need technology, technology also needs the humanities. For technology calls for more than technological thinking, as our present ecological crises remind us. Technology demands reflection on itself in relation to the entire human life world. Such reflection is no longer merely technology, it includes the humanities even though it needs to be done especially by scientists and technologies.

Ong, Walter J. “Statement of Rev. Walter J. Ong, Professor of English and Professor of Humanities in Psychiatry at St. Louis University; and President, Modern Language Association of America.” White House Conference on the Humanities. Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on Select Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, and the Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities of the Committee on Human Resources, United States Senate, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First and Second Session, on H.J Res. 639 to Authorize the President to call a White House Conference on the Humanities. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978. 684-88.