From Classifying to Indexing: How Automation Counteracts the Trouble with Culture

Prof. Allan Hanson
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Culture evolved in the conditions of pre-human and early human society. To the degree that the conventions and beliefs it stipulates were clear and unequivocal and the allegiance of members of society to them was unswerving, culture was the glue (mechanical solidarity) that held small-scale societies together. But culture is poorly adapted to the conditions of today's complex, internally diverse societies. These have several subcultures, and the same mechanical solidarity that cements simple societies exacerbates the differences between subcultures in complex ones. It undermines the solidarity of society as a whole, fomenting "culture wars" over issues such as abortion, religion, and gay marriage.

Information automation counteracts the divisive influence of culture. Culture expresses itself largely through classification. Ideas and actions must be fitted into pre-established categories. In contrast, automated procedures for accessing information operate by indexing, locating whatever is pertinent to a specified topic in some body of information. To search an electronic database for a keyword is, after all, nothing but constructing an index of the database for that word. Indexing produces information in a problem-specific, user-controlled manner. Preconceived categories demanding allegiance are not presented in advance. People must determine for themselves what is relevant among the results of a keyword search, and to interpret the meaning of what they have found. The flexible, open-ended quality of indexical thinking is an antidote to the conflicts generated by culture. It is easier to perceive differences as complementary, with points of compatibility between them.

Keywords: Artificial intelligence, Keyword searching, Culture, Classifying, Indexing
Stream: Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Prof. Allan Hanson

Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Kansas

Ref: T05P0228