Computer Power and Human Reason

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Joseph Weizenbaum's influential 1976 book Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1976; ISBN 0-7167-0463-3) displays his ambivalence towards computer technology and lays out his case: while artificial intelligence may be possible, we should never allow computers to make important decisions because computers will always lack human qualities such as compassion and wisdom. Weizenbaum makes the crucial distinction between deciding and choosing. Deciding is a computational activity, something that can ultimately be programmed. It is the capacity to choose that ultimately makes us human. Choice, however, is the product of judgment, not calculation. Comprehensive human judgment is able to include non-mathematical factors such as emotions. Judgment can compare apples and oranges, and can do so without quantifying each fruit type and then reductively quantifying each to factors necessary for mathematical comparison.

Comments printed on the back cover illustrate how the Weizenbaum's commentary and insights were received by the intelligentsia of the time:

  • "Dare I say it? This is the best book I have read on the impact of computers on society, and on technology, and man's image of himself."
— Keith Oakley, Psychology Today
  • "A thoughtful blend of insight, experience, anecdote, and passion that will stand for a long time as the definitive integration of technological and human thought."
— American Mathematical Monthly
  • "Superb ... the work of a man who is struggling with the utmost seriousness to save our humanity from the reductionist onslaught of one of the most prestigious, and richly funded technologies of our time."
— Theodore Roszak, The Nation.

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