Brains, Tortoises, and Octopuses: Postwar Interpretations of Mechanical Intelligence on the BBC

Jones, Allan (2016). Brains, Tortoises, and Octopuses: Postwar Interpretations of Mechanical Intelligence on the BBC. Information and Culture: A Journal of History, 51(1) pp. 81–101.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/lac.2016.0004

Abstract

The immediate postwar period saw the emergence of the first digital computers as well as developments in cybernetics, brain research, and information theory. In this era, questions of mechanical intelligence came to the forefront in public media. In Britain the BBC broadcast radio talks by many leading practitioners in these fields in which they discussed their work and speculated on its implications for conceptions of intelligence. Generally, speakers were either sceptical or unsceptical toward the issue of intelligent behavior in machines. The sceptics, who tended to have backgrounds in physical science and mathematics, usually took reductive approaches to argue that machines could not be intelligent. The non-sceptics, who tended to have a biological orientation, usually avoided reductive approaches and conceded that the distinction between machines and animal brains might not be clear-cut. These differing interpretations of new technology, their association with distinct intellectual traditions, and their promotion via a wide-reaching and respected medium are seen as instances of social shaping of technology in action.

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