The Computer Never Was a Brain, or the Curious Death and Designs of John von Neumann

Benjamin Peters, Christina Vagt, Jeannie Moser, Mediarep.Org
2019
And it wasn't functioning anymore. Edward Teller on John von Neumann's brain Even when it was most tempting, John von Neumann resisted the neuro-hubris of the computer-brain analogy he helped create. Indeed, in his deathbed lectures The Computer & the Brain, he grants certain aspects of the analogy "absolute implausibility". 1 The distance between neuroscience and computer science has grown more obvious since he was writing in 1956: nevertheless, the ripple effects of that troublesome analogy
more » ... oublesome analogy live on in not only the current moment of so-called "smart machines" but in modern approaches to designing not only the behavior of human cognition, but life and death itself, into machinery. This essay explores one moment in how twentieth-century information scientists and technologists came to situate designs on human behavior in computing, cognition, and communication discourse, and in the process encountered the limits of those design in the computer-brain analogy. The literate world has endured, especially since the postwar period, a steady and ever increasing stream of articles, books, and pundits declaring the coming convergence of mind and machine in the age of artificial superintelligence. 2 Central to such futurism, of course, is the analogy between the computer and the brain collapsing into a singular reality. The details of these projected realities of such a computer-brain merger are, of course, many and diverse: Hermann von Helmholtz envisioned a nervous system in the transmission logics of telegraph networks of the late nineteenth century while commentators in the early twenty-first see democratic intelligence leavening 1
doi:10.25969/mediarep/12448 fatcat:sacc7iepp5gandirdxmgko5uyu