Thursday, November 19, 2020

Computational Thinking Considered Harmful.

 I was a big fan of Jeanette Wing's initiative on computational thinking - it came at a time when we were developing the computing at schools initiative and the Raspberry Pi and so on, and fitted in well with our optimism about how anyone could pretty much get to grips with the core ideas of reasoning in the style computer science has developed (not just logic/algorithmic, but also systems and many other sub-disciplines).

I'm now worried that what has happened is to enable people with the capacity to adopt the technology, much as with  nuclear and biological weapons (or going back further, gunpowder, TNT, or even just any projectile weapon, crossbow, longbow, slingshot etc) and now we have asymmetric warfare, but it is really asymmetric warfare by the few against society. Now we have people hacking on democracy, on trust in science, on social cohesion. 

I'm not talking about the PRC or the Kremlin.  I am talking about the unpleasant, sociopathic power-hungry in our midst. People that were put in their box by long fights to improve everyone's lot over since the enlightenment or even since the renaissance  (or whatever equivalent there was in your non European part of  the world).

People who have adopted the ways of thinking about problems in manners that let them scale-out,, rapidly. Crucially, for  which  we  as yet  have no effective defence (computationally thought out  or otherwise).

I think we need a Pugwash or Asilomar, or even a Butlerian Jihad against computational thinking without appropriate checks and balances.

Now this  is a very tricky proposition as it is quite different  from proposing ethical controls of dangerous technologies. It is about modes of thought. This hasn't been something people outside of ancient Mesopotamia or modern totalitarian states a la 1984  have considered. How to modulate computational  thinking so that it is inherently a moral  framework would be, for me, the thing we need urgently to do. 

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misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home