By Carol Clark
The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry's annual Faculty Response Forum recently brought together dozens of high-powered intellects for food, wine and deep discourse. The menu of ideas included topics like “Queer Practices of the Self,” “Art and the Neurosciences” and “Torture, Knowledge and the State.”
At the table devoted to “Machines that Feel,” Michael Moon flourished a copy of “Tomorrow’s Eve.” The 1886 science fiction novel was the first text to use the word “android,” explained Moon, a professor in the Institute of Liberal Arts.
“The word ‘computer’ first referred to humans,” pointed out Elizabeth Wilson, a psychologist and professor of women’s studies.
“I think it goes back to the 1600s,” said Benjamin Kahan, a Fox Center fellow researching the history of celibacy. He pulled out his iPhone and within seconds had an exact date. “From 1613, a person who carried out calculations and computations. This is Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt.”
By the way, could you pass that shaker?
During World War II, Wilson continued, “computers” came to mean the people creating ballistic firing tables for big guns. “They were all very well-trained mathematically and they were mainly women, because the men were out firing the guns,” she said.
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