, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 1-16

Computers, postmodernism and the culture of the artificial

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Abstract

The term ‘the artificial’ can only be given a precise meaning in the context of the evolution of computational technology and this in turn can only be fully understood within a cultural setting that includes an epistemological perspective. The argument is illustrated in two case studies from the history of computational machinery: the first calculating machines and the first programmable computers. In the early years of electronic computers, the dominant form of computing was data processing which was a reflection of the dominant philosophy of logical positivism. By contrast, artificial intelligence (AI) adopted an anti-positivist position which left it marginalised until the 1980s when two camps emerged: technical AI which reverted to positivism, and strong AI which reified intelligence. Strong AI's commitment to the computer as a symbol processing machine and its use of models links it to late-modernism. The more directly experiential Virtual Reality (VR) more closely reflects the contemporary cultural climate of postmodernism. It is VR, rather than AI, that is more likely to form the basis of a culture of the artificial.