I recently purchased a computer, and am still learning how to use the canned programs that come with it. The main thing that you are struck with in the process of learning about a computer is how totally, incredibly stupid it is. ... You give it a series of a hundred or a thousand sensible commands, and it executes each of them in turn, and then you press a wrong key and accidentally give it a command which goes counter to everything that you have been trying to do, and it will execute that command in a millisecond, just as if you had accidentally hit the wrong button on your vacuum cleaner at the end of your cleaning, and it had instantly and to your great surprise sprayed the dirt that you had collected back into the room. And you feel like, "Jeez, machine, you ought to know I didn't mean that. What do you think I've been doing here for the last hour?" And then you realize that that machine has not the foggiest notion of what you are trying to do, any more than your vacuum cleaner does.The Bill James Baseball Abstract: 1984 (pp. 165-66)
The machine, you see, is nothing; it is utterly, truly, totally nothing. And all of the fascination and the speculation about the computer, about "what it is going to do" and "how it will change things" in baseball and in other areas is completely misguided, because it is not going to do anything and it is not going to do change anything.
We are going to do things with the computer. You and I are going to change the world, and we're going to change baseball, and we're going to use the computer to do it. Machines have no capabilities on their own. Your car cannot drive to Cleveland. What machines do is extend our capabilities. ...
We are going to change our lives, using the computer, far more than we have changed our lives using the automobile, far more than we have changed our lives using the television machine. I have no doubt that this is true, because the computer extends our capabilities, for good or evil, in far more sweeping and comprehensive ways than the automobile, which in truth expands only our ability to move around, or the television, which expands only our ability to observe. I am not afraid on balance. ...
There is, you see, no such thing as "computer knowledge" or "computer information" or "computer data". Within a few years, everyone will understand that. The essential characteristics of information are that it is true or it is false, it is significant or it is trivial, it is relevant or it is irrelevant. In the early days of the automobile, people would say that they were going to take an "automobile trip". That lasted about ten years; after that, people went back to taking trips as they had before. ... After the novelty wore off people still traveled in automobiles, but they ceased to identify the trip with the machine and returned to identifying it with its purpose. ...
Computer people are not going to be running baseball in a few years ... The rise of the computer age is not going to put computer specialists into positions of power any more than the rise of the auto age put auto mechanics and bus drivers into positions of power. Don't worry about it.
I am engaged in a search for understanding. That is my profession. It has nothing to do with computers. Computers are going to have an impact on my life that is similar to the impact that the coming of the automobile age must have had on the professional traveler or adventurer. The car made it easier to get from place to place; the computer will make it easier to deal with information. But knowing how to drive an automobile does not make you an adventurer, and knowing how to run a computer does not make you an analytical student of the game.
October 12, 2010
My Work Has Nothing To Do With Computers
by allan at 7:00 AM