Stephen M. Straker Memorial Lecture
“Thinking outside the body: on the technical evolution of intelligence”
Tuesday, 6 March 2018
5:00 to 6:30 pm
Professor, Department of Rhetoric
University of California, Berkeley
Abstract: From the beginning, with the emergence of the digital computer in the Second World War, Artificial Intelligence has almost always been figured as a simulation of the human mind. And yet one of the most powerful models of human intelligence in our era has of course been the computer. This is hardly surprising, given the fact that Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Artificial Intelligence are disciplines that have co-evolved over the last half century or more. Yet the idea that thinking is something that takes place in a computer or in a mind-brain has dominated research in all of these fields, even as AI has fractured into many specialist domains that no longer attempt to simulate the human. In this talk, I am going to suggest that human thought is something that needs to be understood as taking place outside the body, that it is therefore inherently artificial and “technological” by nature. From this perspective, the historical appearance of Artificial Intelligence marks a special moment in the evolution of an intelligence that is already technically mediated. As I will argue, pioneers of computing, AI, and cybernetics recognized that the human mind and brain was enmeshed in larger systems of thought. The computer did not merely mirror the human; it opened up the potential for extraordinary new kinds of intelligence. But the new automaticity of computation also raised new risks, which we now face in the midst of our 21st-century digital revolution.
David Bates is a former UBC Arts One instructor and Professor of Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. At Berkeley, he has chaired the Department of Rhetoric and served as Director of the Center for New Media. He is the author of three books, Enlightenment Aberrations: Error and Revolution in France (Cornell UP, 2002), States of War: Enlightenment Origins of the Political (Columbia UP, 2011), and Plasticity and Pathology: On the Formation of the Neural Subject (Fordham UP, 2016). His talk will be taken from his current book project, titled An Artificial History of Natural Intelligence.
Stephen Straker (1942-2004) was a historian of science at UBC for thirty years and the chief inspiration for the creation of the STS program. We honor his memory with an annual distinguished lecture. Stephen was an award-winning teacher and some of his own undergraduate lectures in history of science have been preserved here: