“Talent is wasted on servicing expensive machines for data acquisition instead of advancing new ways of thinking.” Mihai Nadin’s assessment of current research trends is scathing. A Professor in Interactive Arts, Technology, and Computer Science at the University of Texas at Dallas and the founder and key protagonist of anticipation research, Nadin is one of the most vocal advocates for a new approach to knowledge, and to human-machine interaction in particular.
The reason he gives is simple: Relying on machines with huge data processing capacity, we limit our perspective on life around us, and on the challenges it poses to us. A machine “is the outcome of mathematics, and not a characteristic of life,” he insists. In fact, by losing our willingness to see more of the world than machines are able to see, we enslave ourselves to the workings of the machine: “the machine rewards those who accept that they are machines—and who behave accordingly—by making them more machine-like. Many experiments turn out to be mere instances of conditioning.”
This should definitely give us pause for thought. Are we being conditioned, much like Pavlov’s dog, when we keep asking for survey data?
Explains Nadin, “The empirical observation of changes in the living always leads to multiple descriptions, corresponding to multiple possible states, sometimes simultaneous, none exclusive of the other.”
And here’s the beauty of it: by breaking away from the narrow conventions of data analysis, we gain a window onto what characterises “the living, which is purposeful”; we are now able to ask: ‘What does it mean?’ Data does not interpret itself – we need to make sense of it. And the questions guiding our interpretation will not be thrown up by data itself.
Nadin’s reminds us that data is simply a man-made representation of the world, and “representation is not neutral. In the representation, the represented is reduced to whatever is intentionally, or accidentally, of interest, to what is significant. The illusion that a representation, such as a number, is objective, independent of the representer, is the source of the many ‘religions’ developed inside science over time.” Strong stuff. So let’s ask Mihai Nadin himself for more guidance!