After several conversations this week on the human-computer interface that is gaining greater currency as Digital (fill-in-field-as-necessary), Wired Mag’s musings feel… slightly 90s. The end of theory. Really? It makes me recall that cartoon we so revered as grad students, with the mice and the cereal box, when postmodernism was all the rage.
Breakfast as text! Foucault flakes. But I am digressing. And maybe 2012 isn’t 2008, as declaring the end of theory, accompanied by the end of methodology, whether scientific or otherwise, represents rather circular reasoning. For now, I, at least, am still grappling with context and variation, not models or theory or methods. Big data to detect correlations and define patters, perhaps. But what kind of data? Let’s take this excerpt from the article:
“Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. That’s why Google can translate languages without actually “knowing” them (given equal corpus data, Google can translate Klingon into Farsi as easily as it can translate French into German). And why it can match ads to content without any knowledge or assumptions about the ads or the content.”
One may feel flummoxed by the announcement that “no semantic or causal analysis is required.” I pursued the fun factor, however, and stuck some Nietzsche into Google translator. For some semantic and syntactic clarity (yes, it does exist) I chose his “Why I am so clever” from Ecce Homo (just a bit of postmodern irony), translated the German into English and then copy-and-pasted an English translation to be re-translated into German. The results were hilarious – truly, even Nietzsche would have been amused. Especially when “pangs of conscience” were re-translated as certain anatomical elements that point to the posterior.
Granted, this is a cheap shot – and it may not have much to do with the science mentioned in the article. Patterns and correlations do not fill in for context and variation, though. Dare I mention the “human element”? If “science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all,” as claimed in the article, why do it? Or am I over-analyzing here…