[Paleopsych] Kahn and Wiener on Computers (1967)

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sun May 8 14:57:33 UTC 2005

Kahn missed the Internet, though. Also the collapse of communism and the 
fitness revolution.

----- Forwarded message from James Fehlinger <fehlinger at un.org> -----
From: James Fehlinger <fehlinger at un.org>
Date: Sat, 7 May 2005 11:10:48 -0400
To: eugen at leitl.org
Subject: One of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century

>From _The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation
on the Next Thirty-Three Years_
by Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener,
The Hudson Institute, Inc., 1967

pp. 89 - 91:

"If computer capacities were to continue to increase
by a factor of ten every two or three years until
the end of the century (a factor between a hundred
billion and ten quadrillion), then all current
concepts about computer limitations will have to
be reconsidered.  Even if the trend continues for
only the next decade or two, the improvements over
current computers would be factors of thousands to
millions.  If we add the likely enormous improvements
in input-output devices, programming and problem
formulation, and better understanding of the basic
phenomena being studied, manipulated, or simulated,
these estimates of improvement may be wildly
conservative.  And even if the rate of change
slows down by several factors, there would still
be room in the next thirty-three years for an
overall improvement of some five to ten orders
of magnitude.  Therefore, it is necessary to be
skeptical of any sweeping but often meaningless
or nonrigorous statement such as 'a computer is
limited by the designer -- it cannot create anything
he does not put in,' or that 'a computer cannot
be truly creative or original.'  By the year 2000,
computers are likely to match, simulate, or surpass
some of man's most 'human-like' intellectual abilities,
including perhaps some of his aesthetic and
creative capacities, in addition to having some
new kinds of capabilities that human beings do
not have.  These computer capacities are not
certain; however, it is an open question what
inherent limitations computers have.  If it turns
out that they cannot duplicate or exceed certain
characteristically human capabilities, that will
be one of the most important discoveries of the
twentieth [!] century. . .

This idea of computer 'intelligence' is a sensitive
point with many people.  The claim is not that
computers will resemble the structure of the human
brain, but that their functional output will equal
or exceed that of the human brain in many functions
that we have been used to thinking of as aspects
of intelligence, and even as uniquely human.  Still,
a computer will presumably not become 'humanoid'
and probably will not use similar processes, but it
may have properties which are analogous to or
operationally indistinguishable from self-generated
purposes, ideas, and emotional responses to new
inputs or its own productions.  In particular, as
computers become more self-programming they will
increasingly tend to perform activities that amount
to 'learning' from experience and training.  Thus
they will eventually evolve subtle methods and processes
that may defy the understanding of the human

In addition to this possibility of independent
intelligent activities, computers are being used
increasingly as a helpful flexible tool for more or
less individual needs -- at times in such close
cooperation that one can speak in terms of a man-
machine symbiosis.  Eventually there will probably
be computer consoles in every home, perhaps linked
to public utility computers and permitting each
user his private file space in a central computer,
for uses such as consulting the Library of Congress,
keeping individual records, preparing income tax
returns from these records, obtaining consumer
information, and so on.

Computers will also presumably be used as teaching
aids, with one computer giving simultaneous individual
instruction to hundreds of students, each at his
own console and topic, at any level from elementary
to graduate school; eventually the system will
probably be designed to maximize the individuality
of the learning process.  Presumably there will
also be such things as:

1.  A single national information file containing all
tax, legal, security, credit, educational, medical
employment, and other information about each citizen.
(One problem here is the creation of acceptable
rules concerning access to such a file, and then. . .
the later problem of how to
prevent erosion of these rules after one or two
decades of increased operation have made the concept
generally acceptable. . .)

2.  Time-sharing of large computers by research centers
in every field, providing national and international
pools of knowledge and skill.

3.  Use of computers to test trial configurations in
scientific work, allowing the experimenter to
concentrate on his creativity, judgment, and intuition,
while the computer carries out the detailed computation
and 'horse work.'  A similar symbiotic relationship
will prevail in engineering and other technological
design.  Using the synergism of newer 'problem-oriented'
computer languages, time-sharing, and new input-output
techniques, engineer-designers linked to a large
computer complex will use computers as experienced
pattern-makers, mathematical analysts of optimum
design, sources of catalogs on engineering standards
and parts data, and often substitutes for mechanical

4.  Use of real-time large computers for an enormous
range of business information and control activity,
including most trading and financial transactions;
the flow of inventories within companies and between
suppliers and users; immediate analysis and display of
company information about availability of products,
prices, sales statistics, cash flow, credit,
bank accounts and interests on funds, market analysis
and consumer tastes, advanced projections, and so

5.  Vast use of computers to reduce and punish crime,
including the capacity of police to check immediately
the identification and record of any person stopped
for questioning.

6.  Computerized processes for instantaneous exchange
of money, using central-computer/bank-and-store-computer
networks for debiting and crediting accounts.

In addition, there will be uses of computers for worldwide
communications, medical diagnostics, traffic and
transportation control, automatic chemical analyses,
weather prediction and control, and so on.

The sum of all these uses suggests that the computer
utility industry will become as fundamental as the power
industry, and that the computer can be viewed as the
most basic tool of the last third of the twentieth
century.  Individual computers (or at least consoles
or other remote input devices) will become essential
equipment for home, school, business, and profession,
and the ability to use a computer skillfully and flexibly
may become more widespread than the ability to play
bridge or drive a car (and presumably much easier)."

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