Author: Simon Schaffer

OK COMPUTER by Simon Schaffer

‘Imagine that human beings were used as reading machines. Assume that in order to become reading machines they need a particular training’ (Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1934). Machines are predictable and humans are not. In celebrated papers of the late 1940s the English mathematician Alan Turing questioned this notion. Having been a wartime cryptographer at Bletchley Park, […]

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Author: Simon Schaffer

BABBAGE’S INTELLIGENCE by Simon Schaffer

“Mr Babbage’s invention puts an engine in place of the computer” In summer 1823 the new and controversial Astronomical Society of London decided to award its gold medal to one of its own founder members, the equally controversial Cambridge-trained mathematician Charles Babbage. The award formed part of an energetic campaign to launch the construction of […]

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Author: Simon Schaffer

BABBAGE’S DANCER by Simon Schaffer

Introduction In a very well-known passage of Capital, Marx described labour as ‘a process between man and nature’ through which man ‘acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature.’ Intelligence made the labour process distintively human. ‘What distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees,’ […]

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Within this MySpace version of the electronic agora, cybernetic communism was mainstream and unexceptional. What had once been a revolutionary dream was now an enjoyable part of everyday life.