The effect of the electronic technology upon the notion of progress is fascinatingly complex, for it manages to suggest both Greek pessimism and Western optimism. The synthesis comes from a new intimacy with time, as both ally and enemy: previously men and women lived in time and worked through time, but Turing’s man is the first who actually works with time. Like space, time is a commodity provided by the computer, a material to be molded, insofar as this is possible, to human ends. This intimate contact with time promises success in time (progress) but also an awareness of ultimate temporal limitations.
By promising (or threatening) to replace man, the computer is giving us a new definition of man, as an “information processor,” and of nature, as “information to be processed.”
I call those who accept this view of man and nature Turing’s men. I include in this group many who reject Turing’s extreme prediction of an artificial intelligence by the year 2000. We are all liable to become Turing’s men, if our work with the computer is intimate and prolonged and we come to think and speak in terms suggested by the machine. When the cognitive psychologist begins to study the mind’s “algorithm for searching long-term memory,” he has become Turing’s man. So has the economist who draws up input-output diagrams of the nation’s business, the sociologist who engages in “quantitative history,” and the humanist who prepares a “key-word-in-context” concordance.
To be linked to the chain of existence and events, yes, but bound by it? No. I forge my own links, I am building my own monstrous chain, and as time goes on, perhaps it will begin to resemble, rather, a web.