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Age of Significance

Brian Cantwell Smith

A systematic analysis of the conceptual foundations of computing. Written in the form of an extended essay, it will be published simultaneously online and in traditional book format by the MIT Press. Chapters will be released at a rate of one chapter per month, starting in the fall of 2010 and continuing for a period of five or six years.

The project is framed as a critical analysis of various extant ideas about computing: formal symbol manipulation, information processing, effective computability, digital state machines, etc. It is argued that:

  1. Our current theoretical frameworks must be profoundly rethought, in order to do justice to real-world computing.
  2. No current account, nor any group in combination, can serve as an adequate theory.
  3. More seriously, we will never have an adequate theory.
  4. While this might seem a dismal conclusion, in fact it is liberating.
  5. Only if we realize there is no such thing as computing can we appreciate computing's monumental impact on our understanding.
  6. Computing is neither more nor less than a site for the construction of meaningful mechanisms—the best we know how to build.
  7. The importance of computing stems from the role it plays: helping to usher us from three centuries of mechanical philosophy into an era in which meaning, interpretation, and significance take their rightful place alongside mechanism and causality in our overall understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place within it.

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