Man-Computer Symbiosis ~ Nugget #2


After reading J. C. R. Licklider’s “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, the section that stuck out to me the most was Section 2, Aims of Man-Computer Symbiosis. The second paragraph states:

“However, many problems that can be thought through in advance are very difficult to think through in advance. They would be easier to solve, and they could be solved faster, through an intuitively guided trial-and-error procedure in which the computer cooperated, turning up flaws in the reasoning or revealing unexpected turns in the solution. Other problems simply cannot be formulated without computing-machine aid. Poincare anticipated the frustration of an important group of would-be computer users when he said, “The question is not, ‘What is the answer?’ The question is, ‘What is the question?'” One of the main aims of man-computer symbiosis is to bring the computing machine effectively into the formulative parts of technical problems.”


One of the main things in life is that we have a choice, and we have to deal with the consequences of our actions. That is something that every living thing has to deal with. How he talks about man-computer symbiotic relationships, he makes it seems like he wants to eliminate consequences entirely. that’s how I see it at least.

By having a computer be able to think through every possible outcome so it can choose the best one defeats the purpose of dealing with your actions. You make a choice, and whether it was a good or bad decision, it is your decision to live with and that you made not knowing what would happen. But having a computer as part of you to make these decisions so that they would benefit you 100% of the time, is not how life should work.

In my mind, computers would base all of their analyzing and decisions off of logic without considering other factors, like feelings and relationships. You choose things because you feel strongly one way or the other and computers would take that step completely out of the process.

computer man


I wanted to find some recent articles about advanments in this field and I found DNA Transistors Pave Way For Living Computers. It is sinteresting to see that some sort of man-computer technology has come about. How I interpreted Licklider’s essay was that he wanted a human to have some sort of computer in them, but this essay is about how they made a living computer using living cells. Researchers built the first biological analogue of the transistor.

A transistor is a device that switches signals and convers input signals to output signals. By combining these transistors, in the future they should be able to build living technologies.

Another nugget from the passage that I thought was very interesting was:

“3) Automatic Speech Production and Recognition: How desirable and how feasible is speech communication between human operators and computing machines? That compound question is asked whenever sophisticated data-processing systems are discussed. Engineers who work and live with computers take a conservative attitude toward the desirability. Engineers who have had experience in the field of automatic speech recognition take a conservative attitude toward the feasibility. Yet there is continuing interest in the idea of talking with computing machines. In large part, the interest stems from realization that one can hardly take a military commander or a corporation president away from his work to teach him to type. If computing machines are ever to be used directly by top-level decision makers, it may be worthwhile to provide communication via the most natural means, even at considerable cost.”

This has come about in most computers and all smartphones. Programs, such as Siri, can be used to help us find out answers to questions, and even type for us. I know my mom uses her speech recognition software on her phone to type texts because she can’t see her screen very well.

Siri is very useful in finding out really anything you want. You talk to Siri, and it will either find what you are looking for, or ask you more questions to narrow your search. I use it a lot for finding addresses and setting reminders. This is one man-computer technology I am very happy about.


2 thoughts on “Man-Computer Symbiosis ~ Nugget #2”

  1. I can see what you mean about how every action has a consequence to it. With modern technology, we don’t really spend our time understanding how to solve complex problems or elaborate critical questions, we are more focused on the answer, than how to obtain the answer. With Google, Wikipedia, and even YouTube, we are trying to get the answer as fast and easy as possible. Even though that’s a great thing, it comes with price. A price of actually understanding how that information is a fact. Most people believe curtain sites, if it seems credible. They give us the answer in a sentence or two, and we are fine with it and move on.

    In the society we live in now, we try to minimize the amount of time and energy we spent getting the answer, so we can do other things. But that comes with a price too.

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