Miller Says Computers, Automation Don't Threaten to Dominate Society
The use of computers to replace some human thinking is "a simple and innocent activity," George A. Miller, professor of Psychology, told the Hillel Round Table of World Affairs yesterday.
"All the computers do is to take symbols and manipuate them according to rules," Miller explained. Fears that they might eventually dominate human societies are just "wonderful fantasies," he continued; in 50 years they will seem as ridiculous as 19th century predictions that labor-saving machines would create a race with "huge brains, enlarged lip muscles, and no muscles elsewhere."
Miller compared computers to steam shovels, because they both "save man from back-breaking labor which he shouldn't do anyway. I welcome the machine for it gives man the opportunity to do things which I value more."
Contrasting computer operations with human thought, Miller stressed that the machines do not deal with "the meanings behind the symbols," while human thought deals primarily with these meanings.
Even when computers take on problems of language translation, music, or design, "the symbols are completely opaque," he maintained. "When we look at symbols, they're completely transparent; if we don't see through them, we say we don't understand them."