“People Take Facts as Metaphors; Computers Take Metaphors as Facts”

Ironically, the computer is often used as a metaphor for the human brain. However, there are of course many differences between the two. One being “People take facts as metaphors; computers take metaphors as facts”, just one of the many “theses in tweetform” written by Nicholas Carr. This one statement speaks volumes about the limits of technology and even the structure of our society.

When I first read this thesis, I immediately thought about how through technology, there is unending room for miscommunication. Online, people have developed a new language, whether it be with emojis, punctuation, or words; all these things become metaphors because they actually symbolize something other than what they are. The word “mad” which means mentally ill, insane, or angry is now commonly used as an alternative to “very” among teenagers online and offline. The function of a period is to simply end a sentence, but can now insinuate that you are angry or stern in a conversation. Even a smiley face emoji sometimes represents a feeling of emptiness. This language is constantly changing and there is never a clear and established definition agreeable by everyone. An article that we had previously used in the course,“The Emoji is the Birth of a New Language”, stands to substantiate this point by saying “ Friends use that malleability to invest specific emoji with their own private meanings.”

A “like” on a post is just a “like” to a computer, but there are endless possibilities to what you decide it symbolizes. If I go on Facebook and “like” a page about cats for whatever reason, Facebook might show me more posts about cats or even ads promoting cat food, thinking I have an interest in cats when in reality I am absolutely terrified of them. If I follow a public figure like Donald Trump on Twitter, Twitter might think I support him politically, when in fact I could just be following so I could make fun of his tweets as soon as possible.

As technology is progressing, it is becoming more and more like us. In this video, Henry Markram talks about the “new era of brain inspired computer science”, and specifically focuses on a chip that is meant to imitate the same functions a brain has. One thing he says that brings a lot of light to the differences between the human brain and technology is “But as you can obviously realize, nobody can program this. You have to let it learn and that’s why the brain is so powerful that actually learning involves adjusting the algorithm that is happening at all of these different synapses.”

The human brain, while it may not be able to calculate an equation as fast as a computer, has a mind of its own and has the ability to deciphers things that aren’t as they seem, while computers are only limited to the information they are given.

Do you think developing technologies that emulate the human brain and its functions is beneficial/essential for our advancement? Or will these new technologies be detrimental to our future (make future generations dumber/take over the world)?

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