Wednesday, November 24

Book Review: God and Golem, Inc.

God & Golem, Inc: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion, published in 1964, has been penned down by Norbert Wiener. Wiener (1894-1964) happens to be the coiner of the term ‘cybernetics’ in its modern sense. Wiener is a well-regarded mathematician and has a vast number of technical papers to his credit.

However God and Golem Inc, has very little to do with the subtleties of theoretical physics or mathematics, it concerns itself majorly with socially relevant issues of cybernetics that intersect with religion. The author here refrains himself from using any highly technical phrases to prove his points. Some of the ideas do remain rather vague, as a result of this approach. But it seems necessary as the book caters to a much wider audience this way. 

The three main issues, discussed throughout a number of short essays in the book, are: 

  • Machines which learn themselves
  • Machines which have capacity to reproduce themselves
  • The relation between man and machine


Learning is a property which has been long attributed to self-conscious systems, or simply put living organisms. But there have been efforts to make learning machines, which might ultimately lead to the invention of the long anticipated (and feared) “Artificial Intelligence”.  The author takes an intereting example of Checkers playing machine. The computer which has been programmed to play a game of Checkers also possesses an interesting ability to “learn” from its past experience and improve its game in accordance. Such a machine was able to consistently defeat its creator, Sameul, in the initial phase. "It did win," the author writes, "and it did learn to win; and the method of its learning was no different in principle from that of the human being who learns to play checkers.”  An interesting point raised here is the conflict between the Devil and the God, as described in the Book of Job or Paradise Lost, might seem to be a pitifully unequal contest in the first sight. To avoid moral dualism Devil must be considered God’s creation. The game, it has been argued, between the Creator and the creation, ignoring the omnipotence of the Creator, happens to be quite a real conflict with a possibility of the creator losing the game.


Second point deals with the ability of reproduction amongst machines, or whether such ability exists at all? Man makes man in his own image, which is supposedly an echo or a prototype of the act of creation, by which God has made Man in his own image. The author demonstrates that man has made machines which are able to make other machines in their own image. These images can very well be pictorial as well as operative images. This brings me to the title of the book. Can we safely say that God is to Golem as Man is to Machine? Golem is considered to be the embryo of Adam, shapeless and not fully created, according to Jewish mythology.


The author ponders upon the relation between Man and Machine next. He ponders on the subject of androids, or the semi-machine humans. In fact to have forecast the development of such systems in back in 1964 is rather impressive. "Render unto man the things which are man's and unto the computer the things which are the computer's," the author warns. The issues discussed here are more of ethical in their nature.

The author also touches upon a lot of other important issues, except for the main three described above. Some of the examples include human responsibility in usage of advancing technology, sensory feedback to artificial organs, machine game-playing, Cold War, Marxism, Darwinism, adversities of Ideological thinking and even Economics as a science. This exemplifies the range of the author as well as shades some light upon his vast knowledge pool.


However, at times, it appears that the book lacks direction. Some of the issues are left rather contentious. His ideas including the right to die and the ones including machine self-reproduction seem rather vague. The book however remains crisp and sharp, devoid of any unnecessary length. The ideas are presented in progressive manner. Sometimes it appears that he overestimated future technology, such optimism however isn’t very uncommon among the authors coming from a scientific background.


He puts forward the notion that scientists and engineers are moral people, whose work is based on their fundamental belief in human goodness.  He states that deepest hell in Dante’s Inferno has been reserved for the sin of Simony (which was used in the context of the misuse of Church’s power). He draws parallel to this old term in the sense of misuse of growing technological powers for a more personal gain, or usage of money as a force.


It remains an important book. One might not necessarily agree with all the points covered in the book, especially the ones touching upon religious issues, depending upon his/her personal beliefs. But the book has got courage to ask difficult questions.


My favorite line from the book:
“Remember that in the game of atomic warfare, there are no experts." 

Monday, November 22

Inside The Gutter

Thought me had no one,
Noone to take care mine,
Take mine care,
Before it was,
Noticed your,
Small your paws,
Brown fur,
A rat me all got,
All me got,
Trapped inside both,
The same gutter,
Rat got the me,
Me got rat,
Both we bored,
Enough ignored,
Our shared stories,
Biologist and histories,
Bonded really we,
Shared all could we,
Shared food our,
We shared our food,
He shared his body,
Me shared mine hunger,
And left was me,
All alone,
Me was alone,
Inside the gutter.

-Pavan
22 November, 2010

Thursday, November 18

Been There

Been there, seen it
Your smile your pet mouse
Both inside your wooden house
Upon the mountain inside the stone

But your mouse is dead your smile stolen
Your furniture broken your cousin grown fat
Bet your insurance company
Didn’t know anything about that

I still remember our first kiss
Going to the movies, flying the red kites
The trip to Albino, our first few fights

Shades of gray lingering between
All the blacks and the whites
Happy times, sad days, desperate nights

But when I needed your love the most
Your condolences, your advice
You were never there
No one to hear my cries
For you were dancing in the distance
With the tall guys

Never thought you will leave someday
Was it so easy to betray
When I was exhausted you threw me away
Just like an empty bottle of spray

Sometimes, in my dreams, can sense you
Hear your footsteps, can hear their distant sound
My fears shake me up, from dreams they wake me up
And there is nothing but emptiness to be found

Took long to realize you were gone
Considered jumping from the stone
Loveless, desperate and vulnerable
I was left, all alone

But the seasons have changed
The crows now sing in melodic tone
The owls have grown smarter
The person I was long lost long forgone

I should have known you will leave someday
That it is easy to betray
You will throw my exhausted soul away
Just like an empty bottle of spray

When I needed your love the most
Your condolences your advice
You danced with the guys, squat and tall
While my cries echoed in the empty hall
No you were never there

But I have been there
Have killed your mouse stolen your smile
Broken your furniture it took me some while
But your cousin growing fat
Now I have nothing to do with that!

-Pavan
15 November, 2010

Sunday, November 14

A Lovely Saturday

Over the hilly town
Under the dead nun's gown
Have put it down
But somehow
Can’t find it now
  
Can’t locate grave of the nun
Under the burning sun
But I won't give up
Will return when the moon shines
And the silver fox cries

Find my paper crown
I will burn the place down
Sit atop the banyan tree
Enjoying the off spree
Watching the world burn free

Cherish the moment
Enjoy every last scream
People burning while still in their dream 
Will dance naked over dead bodies
Eat the flesh of children


And when I am all fed up
I will consider my mistakes undone
For god is kind
Having a sound mind

I shall confess all my crimes
Beat up my back couple of times
My sins, be forgiven

And someday 
When I meet Him
We shall ride horses made of clay
And to Him I would say
"It was a lovely Saturday!"

-Pavan
14 November, 2010

Tuesday, November 9

41

Underneath moonlit skies, on curving yellow roads we walked,
Over elating highlands, warm rainforests her shadows I stalked.

In some silent whispers, couple of nameless songs she hummed,
Insinuating ideas dusted and newfangled alike, and we talked!

Enjoying unblemished sunshine a marsh harrier upon us flew,
Fresh smells of flowing seas of blue mountains and rambling squirrels it blew.

She told me of her grandpa’s old clock, about how much he cared,
Other funny little stories of her childhood she shared.

And I listened wondering all the while,
Upon a green leaf and little orange flowers, a butterfly hovered meanwhile.

“So Cute!” Pointed Mrs. Wayne to her husband and their only son,
A small fist extended as the boy captured the fly, just for the sake of fun!

A lion roared in vicinity, out Mr. Wayne took his shredded gun,
Four thousand feet above us all a German fighter-plane flew, under the hooded sun.

The butterfly escaped the fists, the plane dived,
The lion roared again, the harrier smiled.

Her dimples flashed In the sun,
"Bang!" roared Wayne's aforementioned gun.

I told her a joke which one I don’t remember now,
But it did make her laugh, her beautiful smile leaving a faint afterglow.

The bullet traveled through the air,
Cutting through all the love and despair.

Faster and faster it moved death etched upon its nose,
The shrewd king of jungle jumped, missing the bullet quite close.

Straight the bullet traveled ‘cause it still had to kill,
And it pierced right through her heart leaving her silent still.

Impending upon her doom she lay down on the grass, quieten and motionless,
The ghost of her last laugh still etched upon her face.

A teardrop fell upon her body, the harrier joining in silent requiem.
And I sat beside her despairingly hoping for another such bullet to come.

Thinking of all the mountains together we crossed,
Only to be met by an end so glum, so sad.

Unaware we were of our destiny, but it hardly matters,
Her stories remain untold, the journey never ends.

-Pavan
4 November, 2010

An afterthought:
But then it’s never the journey that terminates, is it?