The attribution of intelligence to machines, crowds of fragments, or other nerd deities obscures more than it illuminates. When people are told that a computer is intelligent, they become prone to changing themselves in order to make the computer appear to work better, instead of demanding that the computer be changed to become more useful.
Unlike scandal-monger Ed Klein's fantastical No. 1 best-selling narrative about the supposed Blood Feud between the Clintons and the Obamas, Halper's study is juicy and gossipy, yet scrupulously researched, drawing on numerous on-the-record conversations (as well as many not-for-attribution interviews) with prominent Democrats and Clinton insiders, past and present.
I don't speak with proper grammar. I don't speak with dialogue attribution. I don't speak with quotation. I don't care about any of that stuff. It's about rhythm, and it's about what's in their [the character's] head, and what feels more natural. And it's about speed. I want things to move.
But I would like to think for a moment about a man who in the morning teaches his students that a false attribution of a Watteau drawing or an inaccurate transcription of a fourteenth-century epigraph is a sin against the spirit and in the afternoon or evening transmits to the agents of Soviet intelligence classified, perhaps vital information given to him in sworn trust by his countrymen and intimate colleagues. What are the sources of such scission? How does the spirit mask itself?
[The canonization of the Koran involved the] attribution of several, partially overlapping, collections of logia [sayings] (exhibiting a distinctly Mosaic imprint) to the image of a Biblical prophet (modified by the material of the Muhammadan evangelium into an Arabian man of God) with a traditional message of salvation (modified by the influence of Rabbinic Judaism into the unmediated and finally immutable word of God).
The mistake we make in thinking of character as something unified and all-encompassing is very similar to a kind of blind spot in the way we process information. Psychologists call this tendency the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which is a fancy way of saying that when it comes to interpreting other people's behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of situation and context.
Anthropomorphism originally meant the attribution of human characteristics to God. It is curious that the word is now used almost exclusively to ascribe human characteristics-such as fidelity or altruism or pride, or emotions such as love, embarrassment, or sadness-to the nonhuman animal. One is guilty of anthropomorphism, though it is no longer a sacrilegious word. It is a derogatory, dismissive one that connotes a sort of rampant sentimentality. It's just another word in the arsenal of the many words used to attack the animal rights movement.
Prior to the monotheistic Yahweh, the gods made sense, in that they had familiar, if supra-human appetites-they didn't just want a lamb shank, they wanted the best lamb shank, wanted to seduce all the wood nymphs, and so on. But the early Jews invented a god with none of those desires, who was so utterly unfathomable, unknowable, as to be pants-wettingly terrifying. So even if His actions are mysterious, when He intervenes you at least get the stress-reducing advantages of attribution-it may not be clear what the deity is up to, but you at least know who is responsible for the locust swarm or the winning lottery ticket. There is Purpose lurking, as an antidote to the existential void.
Robert M. Sapolsky
Privacy and pollution are similar problems. Both cause harm that is invisible and pervasive. Both result from exploitation of a resource-whether it is land, water, or information. Both suffer from difficult attribution. It is not easy to identify a single pollutant or a single piece of data that caused harm. Rather, the harm often comes from an accumulation of pollutants, or an assemblage of data. And the harm of both pollution and privacy is collective. No one person bears the burden of all pollution; all of society suffers when the air is dirty and the water undrinkable. Similarly, we all suffer when we live in fear that our data will be used against us by companies trying to exploit us or police officers sweeping us into a lineup. (212-213)