Story of Walter Pitts

My good friend Srinivas Varadarajan had sent this story to me in December 2015. I read it in April 2016. Today, as I was reading the third chapter of the book, ‘The rise of robots’, the name Norbert Wiener came up and that somehow made me recall this story. The story of Walter Pitts is associated with Norbert Wiener. I located it and I think it is a great read. It is a story of genius and unsurprisingly, it is a tragedy involving a woman and some skinny-dipping too!

Just savour this:

In other words, Pitts was struggling with the very logic he had sought in life. Pitts wrote that his depression might be “common to all people with an excessively logical education who work in applied mathematics: It is a kind of pessimism resulting from an inability to believe in what people call the Principle of Induction, or the principle of the Uniformity of Nature. Since one cannot prove, or even render probable a priori, that the sun should rise tomorrow, we cannot really believe it shall.”

It is a story brilliantly told by Amanda Gefter. This story underscores my conviction that most people are grossly overestimating the difference that new technologies (robotic, paper-less, fintech, etc., ) to our ‘lives’ in entirety. They are extensions of the material comforts including improved physical health that technology has already provided us.

Will they leave us feeling even more empty? My personal answer is YES.

Suppose they find technologies that will alter the neural networks in the business and also the chemical balance that would keep us all living long and happy, I doubt if the world can support all of us living longer and consuming longer.

But, let us not forget one thing. This story of people who believed that there is a logic to how the brain works and that such logic can be replicated and mimicked and how they fell victim to jealousy, misplaced anger and depression is as much a story of the limits of logic, science and human ingenuity as it is a story of human brilliance too.

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