June 21, 2021

Jonathan Swift and artificial intelligence | Science

Jonathan Swift and artificial intelligence | Science

There is not a single scientific subject that has not been treated by universal literature. Something similar affirmed the French semiologist Roland Barthes in one of his articles, making clear that any matter that society considers worthy of transmission, will be the object of a science. To put it in the same words of Barthes: science is what is taught.

With such guidelines we are going to enter into one of the most imaginative works of western literature. Is about the satire written in 1726 by the Irish Jonathan Swift and titled The trips of Gulliver where there are not only winks, but also critical insinuations towards science. The trips of Gulliver It is a classic work divided into four parts that correspond to four trips and whose protagonist, in all of them, is the surgeon Lemuel Gulliver, an adventurer who enrolls in a ship and who will be dragged to an endless number of adventures.

Jonathan Swift.
Jonathan Swift.

In one of his trips, Gulliver knows the academy of Lagado, a very special institution, formed by several houses that, between all of them, add something like five hundred rooms. Gulliver visits them, encountering the intellectualoid snobbery of scientists who live more concerned with discovering tonthunas, than making science matter worthy of transmission so that it serves human benefit. The eccentricities of the Lagado scientists range from extracting sunbeams from cucumbers to trying to convert human excrement into the original food, including building houses starting from the roof.

But the most interesting is the anticipatory sense of Jonathan Swift in what refers to the so-called "artificial intelligence", when Gulliver meets a board "that took up most of the length and width of the room." The invention that describes Gulliver was in turn built by several pieces of wood strung by a thin wire and then, in turn, covered with written paper with all the existing words, without alphabetical order.

Some iron levers start the operation of the machine. It is then, when they begin to turn the words and to change position, combining with each other. In this way, some meaningful sentences take place that, in turn, are copied by scribes, until a book is shaped. Gulliver is shown "several large folio volumes" assembled in this way to "offer the world a complete work of all sciences and arts." It is "a project to advance speculative knowledge through practical and mechanical operations".

When imagining the result of the aforementioned machine, Jonathan Swift anticipated the so-called crisis of authorship, a concept that, centuries later – at the end of the sixties of last century – proclaimed a series of thinkers among which was the French semiologist Roland Barthes. In his essay entitled The death of the authorBarthes proposes that a writing is a reconstruction, that is, a rewrite, since ideas written on a paper lack authorship and belong to the collective culture. The text is a multiple reconstruction that emerges when the author dies in a symbolic way.

Jonathan Swift and artificial intelligence

But we can also identify the machine devised by Jonathan Swift with the central idea of ​​the theorem expounded by the mathematician Émile Borel in 1913 and which we know as the theorem of the infinite monkey. The aforementioned theorem suggests that uNo monkey, giving the keys of a typewriter for an infinite time, could get to write any given text, whether it was The Quixote or the works of Shakespeare.

It is an extraordinarily improbable feat, since the presumed infinity of time is incomprehensible by a living being. The image of the monkey banging on a typewriter until it reaches a legible text is nothing more than a finite representation of an infinite complexity.

The stone ax It's a section where Montero Glez, with a desire for prose, exercises its particular siege on scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge.

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