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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.
This lesson is known to every child who discovers that fundamental paradox of the dictionary: that if you do not know what some words mean you can never use the dictionary to learn what other words mean. The definition of any word, if pursued far enough through the dictionary, will lead you in circles.