Anthropomorphic Reductionism

Alfred B. Mason, MD
JAMA. 1972;219(4):511. doi:10.1001/jama.1972.03190300046019.
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To the Editor.—  In "Anthropomorphic Reductionism" the writer notes the questionable semantics of applying, to information-processing machines, terms that suggest some kind of inner "subjective" consciousness.I suppose that most of the technical men who use those terms think of them as verbal short-cuts. Yet verbal short-cuts have a nasty tendency to be extrapolated far beyond the intention of their coiners.At the same time, the semantics of the distinction—between machines and people, so to speak—is not much better worked out than that of the abuses themselves.At the present time, information-processing machines are mostly of the "programmed" type, ie, the programmer sets up a limited set of situations to which the machine reacts in a predetermined pattern; situation A, that is, always evokes response A'. But just around the corner of the future is the "self-programming computer."Here the machine is given a set of norm-priorities (observe how carefully


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