The Technology of Bullshit

Apart from being sent to bed early, the worst part about being the youngest member of my family was that everyone around me could read except me. Even if I wasn’t born into a bookish family, I could intuit the power of the written word. It allowed my mother to remember what she had to buy in the market. Notes passed between my brothers could elicit laughter. Note to self: written squiggles can tickle. I knew my father often stayed up late immersed in a novel. I remember staring at my brother for hours while he was doing homework, his eyes darting across the textbook in front of him, his pencil in hand bobbing over the notebook page, leaving mysterious symbols behind. I felt excluded from what I knew was a world of meaning. “When can I learn how to read?” I asked on my first day of school.  Words enable us to read minds. Through them, we can communicate with various degrees of precision our innermost thoughts and our most visceral feelings. We can travel through space and time. Words allow us to learn from the dead and convey our knowledge to those who come after us; they allow us to overcome the geographical and temporal limits of our bodies. Words are vehicles through which we can plan and coordinate with others. Sentences and paragraphs are tools through which we enhance our cognitive capacities. Written language is one of our defining skills as human beings. In 1950, the computer scientist Alan Turing imagined that, one day, written language might not be exclusive to human beings. In his “imitation game,” Turing imagined human judges holding five-minute text-based conversations with a computer and a person, both of which were hidden. Could judges reliably tell which was the computer just through reading

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