The Norman Transcript


February 3, 2013

Pablo Picasso: ‘Computers are useless’

NORMAN — Computers are useless. They only give you answers,” so said acclaimed artist Pablo Picasso in the late 1960s. Fifty years later, computers have evolved into useful tools capable of performing an amazing array of tasks, even though they are still incapable of formulating even the most fundamental questions.

I heard the “computers are useless” quote for the first time at a lecture given by Dr. Ian Angell, Professor of Information Systems at the London School of Economics. Held at the annual Defcon computer security conference in Las Vegas, Dr. Angell’s lecture, titled “Digital Security — A Risky Business,” was so full of notable quotes of his own that I couldn’t write them down fast enough, no matter how furiously I scribbled. The man is, quite simply, a fountain of brilliant observations.

Professor Angell has long been a controversial and outspoken critic of governmental attempts to categorize everything under the sun, compile statistics relating to those categories and then use technological systems to turn the resulting information into political and economic policies. As Dr. Angell points out, “Technology always gets more and more complex and ultimately fails.” To my mind, this statement illuminates the troubling fact that our society is becoming more and more dependent on technology to solve human problems, with few people ever questioning the wisdom of the situation.

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic;” this quote from communist dictator Joseph Stalin points out the inherent danger of using statistics as a means of determining policy. “These words of monster Joseph Stalin show his clear understanding of the monstrosity that is statistics,” says Dr. Angell. “He knew that statistics deliver the clear conscience of a numerical justification that avoids responsibility for man’s inhumanity to man.”

“They tell us the big lie that ‘the figures don’t lie,’ as they treat us as categories and not as individuals. However, category is not truth, but merely an act of choice driven by hidden agendas and prejudged priorities. Categories are intrinsically ambiguous. They can be distorted so that most of the data is ‘on message,’ while awkward numbers are ignored.” “Instead of continually re-evaluating every uncertain situation and depending on the talent of individuals, political decision-making becomes a matter of controlling the future by labeling it with numbers. However, the approach of searching for the right numerical label to represent the future is no different to numerology, astrology, or the personality tests found in women’s magazines.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Ideal Homes to dedicate Oklahoma’s first Home for HOPE

    Ideal Homes dedicated the company’s first Home for HOPE on Wednesday at 13209 SW 5th in Yukon....

    July 27, 2014

  • Todd Lamb to keynote luncheon

    Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb will provide the keynote address at the Norman Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Lunch at 11:45 a.m. Aug. 6 at the National Weather Center. Lamb will speak on state issues that may impact local business and ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Builders Association of South Central Oklahoma learns about storm water proposal

    The Builders Association of South Central Oklahoma invited Norman Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary to talk about the new storm water fee proposal at its luncheon Thursday....

    July 27, 2014

  • Backing up everything, everywhere, not as easy as it should be

    Though we may wish or believe otherwise, computing devices are still somewhat of a hassle to use. Some devices, like Apple’s iPad, come close to being fully realized machines, but even iPads have their clunky side....

    July 27, 2014

  • Is using E10 or ‘pure’ gasoline more economical?

    An analysis by AAA Oklahoma shows that at today’s prices, E10 motor fuel is cheaper to use than 100 percent gasoline, despite the fewer miles per gallon produced by E10, which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline....

    July 27, 2014

  • Appellate judge retiring

    The Honorable Charles A. Johnson retired from the Court of Criminal Appeals after 25 years on the bench. Johnson was appointed to the court on Oct. 31, 1989, by Gov. Henry Bellmon to fill the unexpired term of Hez J. Bussey. After 59 ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Candy Basket celebrates 25 years

    Perhaps it’s the chocolate covered blueberries whose deliciousness still lingers. Or maybe it’s the blood orange and wild honey white chocolate ganache that won’t soon be forgotten by your taste buds. At The Candy Basket there is decadence ...

    July 20, 2014

  • Bramlett & Associates adopts new name reflective of business

    Bramlett & Associates Multimedia LLC (Bramlett Multimedia), 215 W. Main St., announced this month that the company will change its name after 12 years in business and will do business as BOLD-Multimedia. The announcement, made first to ...

    July 20, 2014

  • Toothpick holders convention coming to Norman

    Lynne Ryan has been collecting toothpick holders her entire life. “My parents, Mr. and Mrs. W.L. ‘Bud’ Gibbs started our collection in 1936,” Ryan said. Ryan was born in 1940, and she grew up crawling around toothpick holders, as have ...

    July 20, 2014

  • Protect your online banking, shopping with encryption

    In my free, one-night class called “Fight the Internet Bad Guys and Win,” I teach everyday computer users how to stay out of trouble on the Internet. How to avoid virus infections, how to discern between the genuine and counterfeit, and ...

    July 20, 2014