This is the first in a series of autobiographical accounts by Cyborgology writers of our early personal interactions with technology. Half autoethnography, half unrepentant nostalgia trip this series looks at what technologies had an impression on us, which ones were remarkably unremarkable, and what this might say about our present outlook on digitality.
I wish I could say it was love at first sight when my Dad brought home what I just now leaned was called an IBM 5150. According to IBM, “ it was dramatically clear to most observers that IBM had done something very new and different.” I guess I wasn’t most observers. My parents say I liked it but my memories of it little to do with it being a computer per se. It was inculcated in major events in the household. It could make grayscale banners and quarter-page invitations, letters to pen pals and family. Nothing about that computer, for me, had to do with programming. In fact, what I remember most about it was how mechanical it was: All the different, almost musical sounds it made when it was reading a floppy or printing something on its included dot-matrix printer. The spring-loaded keys on its impossibly heavy keyboard made the most intriguing sound; when all ten fingers were on that keyboard it sounded like a mechanical horse clacking and clinking. My favorite part of the computer was when you’d turn it off and it would make a beautiful tornado of green phosphorus accompanied by a sad whirling sound. It sounded like this almost-living thing was dying a small death every time you were finished with it. I loved killing that computer.
I just left my department’s colloquium lecture series where Dr. Virginia Eubanks from SUNY- Albany was giving an excellent talk on the computer systems that administer and control (to varying degrees) earned benefits programs like social security, Medicaid, and Medicare. The talk was really fascinating and a question from Dr. Abby Kinchy during the Q&A really stuck with me: How do we study different (and often long-outdated) versions of software? Particularly, how do we chart the design of software that runs on huge closed networks owned by large companies or governments? Are these decisions lost to history, or are there methods for ferreting out Ross Perot’s old wares? (more…)
I attended a viewing and panel discussion for the final episode of Jeopardy! IBM Challenge in which IBM’s Watson supercomputer beat reigning champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a 3-night challenge of standard Jeopardy! games. Check out my previous post to read more about the tech behind Watson and what IBM hopes to do with this impressive technology. This post will focus more on the public perception of Watson, and what it means to have a technology that is credited with producing very accurate conclusions based on complex data.
The panel discussion and viewing event was hosted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. In the interest of full disclosure- I am currently enrolled as an M.S./Ph.D student in RPI’s Science and Technology Studies Dept. It’s also worth noting that Principal Investigator, David Ferrucci; research scientist Chris Welty; and Senior Software Engineer Adam Lally, are all RPI alumni.
I asked a few RPI students, during the preceding reception, two questions: 1) what they foresaw as the first application of Watson, and 2) whether or not they were afraid of Watson. A group of three guys, Alex, Sean, and Thomas wanted to see this technology replace the Google algorithm or WebMD. Two women, Anna and Karen, repeated what they’d heard the previous night, that Watson would be a tool to deal with “information overload.” For the second question, all five students seemed puzzled. How could a machine that sorts data, be evil? (more…)
This computer isn’t connected to the internet. It takes up an entire room, and its made by IBM. This sounds like the kind of technology you would find in a 1980 edition of Compute! Magazine. Instead, Engadget has been following the story in the traditional 21st century manner of tech news coverage: live blogging with photos and under-10-minute video interviews. The new computer making news is Watson [official IBM website for the Watson project], a new 80 teraflop supercomputer meant to answer natural language questions. It was demoed last Thursday at IBM’s research facility in Armonk, NY. Watson is being tested in the most grueling tournament of fact retrieval know to humankind: it is competing in several games of Jeopardy! against reigning champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
IBM intends to commercialize the technology by selling it to large medical and data industries who need to provide lots of seemingly routine answers to questions from a wide array of topics. By developing a system that can understand the subtlety of human language -with all of its puns, idiomatic expressions, and contextual meaning- data becomes retrievable in a very human way. (more…)