programming the ENIAC
Programming the ENIAC – source

It is the tradition of humans to hold a distinct intellectual advantage over machines. This started to change with the dedication ENIAC 1946.

ENIAC was the first programmable computer, and was capable in more than one task. It could change its role based on the instructions it was given. Up until that point all tools were single purposed. A bone, a hammer, a train — could only do what they were designed and built to do.

All of a sudden programmers were staring into a room with a 150 feet wide machines, flashing and rotating based on their instructions.

An awe–inducing and pivotal moment in the relationship between humans and machines. If before machines were just being, they were now doing. And we told it what to do.

With power comes bias though, and tools started planting the promise of intelligence in their programmers, a fallacy that exists to this day.

ENIAC’s grand visions are only naive only with the benefit of hindsight. We assign it human–like intelligence, and conjure the obvious luddite skepticism.

It is our natural inclination to pass own properties to our surrounding. Systems with complexity beyond our intuitive mental mapping benefit from being assigned intelligence. Think of the last time you spoke to your car, TV, or algorithm.

As social creatures it assures us to dialogue with objects, as if agents themselves. It alleviates our mental responsibility, but more importantly promotes the option of magic. 

In a healthy middle ground between techno–religion and techno–phobia sits a world of incredibly smart tools, aided by human based computation, users’ mental models and human first thinking.

The romance that a anything could be bigger than the sum of its parts is mathematically wrong, but true to life.