Academic journal article et Cetera

Is the Computer a Communist?

Academic journal article et Cetera

Is the Computer a Communist?

Article excerpt

Sometimes I wonder about metaphors that are a bit troubling. I tend to avoid thinking about them. But eventually I wind up writing about them. The computer is a communist is one such metaphor.

The dictionary defines a communist as one who believes that there should be no private property. A communist state will eventually wither away, and all things will be held by everyone in common and be distributed to people as they need them. Before we get to a communist state, we can expect to see a totalitarian state in charge of important aspects of production of goods and services.

Now, communism in Russia fell back in the 1990s, as proved by a victory parade over communist government covered by the Doonesbury comic strip. And the Chinese have apparently embraced some version of capitalism even though they continue to call themselves communist. So it is hard to know just what has happened to communism, but it has fallen on hard times in world politics.

That is why the metaphor of the computer as a communist is so, well, subversive. It claims that communism is reappearing at the very heart of the capitalist system, even as it seems to disappear elsewhere.

Capitalists love computers. They have financed and developed them since electronic computers were invented in the late 1930s and 1940s. Computers have absorbed more and more tasks of the capitalist economy. They seem to have taken over accounting and financial functions. Computers are replacing more and more workers, blue collar and white collar.

Yet does the computer respect private property? If you could talk to a computer, would the computer support private property, or would it be opposed to private property? I think the answer is that the computer is inherently opposed to private property.

If we talked to a single computer, all it could recognize are Is and Os. So what's the big deal, it would ask, if someone thinks they own this 1 or that 1? …

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