An original story of computing fosters the growth of a more comprehensive manufacturing culture

 

The adventure of doing business is the result of other human and technological adventures. It is the fulfilment of what is generally referred to as the entrepreneurial spirit, but which is most commonly known as the restlessness of men and women who are not satisfied with their lot. And those who use genius and technologies to reach their goal. This is what happened at the time of the first industrial revolution and it is happening again today. And we need to understand the history, the evolutions, the stops and the accelerations of this journey. One of the most significant examples in this sense concerns computers and computing. Reading “Macchine per pensare” (Thinking machines) by Francesco Varanini is therefore a must-have experience.

Varanini (an anthropologist and subsequently a manager, consultant and trainer and concurrently a literary critic, an advocate for what is referred to as humanistic IT), starts with a consideration: choosing how machines can intervene in everyday life, in work and in our relationships, constitutes an ethical-moral choice for our future. This statement is however immediately followed by an observation: information technology – the daughter of a single philosophical tradition, from Descartes to Turing, via Frege, Russell and Hilbert – ignores Freud, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and too often remains the field of action of technicians who are not always aware of the very history of their discipline and of the consequences of their actions. Besides, philosophers and scientists, those to whom we delegate most of our understanding of life and of the universe, devoid for that matter of technical knowledge, end up disregarding information technology.

All of us are right in the middle of this situation. And therefore so are businesses and those who live and work there.

With the aim of providing the tools to understand, Varanini thus retraces the history of computing from the twenties and thirties of last century to the modern day, and he does so in an original, captivating, practically unique way.

The entire narrative is permeated by the dual nature of computing. The initial project aimed to build a machine intended to compensate for human flaws, forcing control, rules, order, accuracy. At the same time, another project overturned this intent: the power of the machine can be used – this is where the personal computer comes in – to support man as he takes charge of his own autonomy and as he assumes responsibility, establishing individual freedom.

Varanini then illustrates the technical and human aspects, scientific adventures and the shared feeling which, on the one hand, make up the history of computing and, on the other, the general cultural baggage that becomes part of the company since it is necessary better to understand what computers are and what role they now play within production organisation.

By making use of extensive and significant historical and technological knowledge, Varanini has written an essay and at the same time a historical novel (which, among other things, will continue with “Pitts, Bush, Nelson. Tre storia di computing” (Pitts, Bush, Nelson. Three computing stories).It is not an easy book, but rather a book that you should read letting yourselves be guided by a style that unfolds between philosophy and science, between humanism and technology in an unusual way ,with a writing style that leaves its mark.

 

Macchine per pensare. L’informatica come prosecuzione della filosofia con altri mezzi (Thinking machines. Information technology as the continuation of the philosophy with other means)

Francesco Varanini

Guerini e Associati, 2016

 

 

14/11/2017