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Will the computer's ability to do routine work mean that human thinking will shift to a higher level? Will IQs rise? Will there be more intellectuals? The computer may make a lot of learning as unnecessary as memorizing the multiplication tables. But if a dictionary stored in the computer's memory can easily correct any spelling mistakes, what is the point of learning to spell? And if the mind is freed from intellectual routine, will it race off in pursuit of important ideas or lazily spend its time on more video games?
Too little is known about how the mind works, and less about how the computer might change that process. The neurological researches of Mark Rosenzweig and his colleagues at Berkeley indicate :hat animals trained to learn and assimilate information develop heavier cerebral cortices, more glial cells and bigger nerve cells. But does the computer really stimulate the brain's activity or, by doing so much of its work, permit it to go slack?
Some educators do believe they see the outlines of change. Seymour Papert, professor of mathematics and education at M.I.T. and author of Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, invented the computer language named Logo, with which children as young as six can program computers to design mathematical figures. Before they can do that, however, they must learn how to analyze a problem logically, step by step. "Getting a computer to do something," says Papert, "requires the underlying process to be described, on some level, with enough precision to be carried out by the machine." Charles P. Lecht, president of the New York consulting firm Lecht Scientific, argues that "what the lever was to the body, the computer system is to the mind." Says he: "Computers help teach kids to think. Beyond that, they motivate people to think.
There is a great difference between intelligence and manipulative capacity. Computers help us to realize that difference."
The argument that computers train minds to be logical makes some experts want to reach for the computer key that says ERASE. "The last thing you want to do is think more logically," says Atari's Kay. "The great thing about computers is that they have no gravity systems. The logical system is one that you make up. Computers are a wonderful way of being bizarre."
Sherry Turkic, a sociologist now finishing a book titled The Intimate Machine: Social and Cultural Studies of Computers and People, sees the prospect of change in terms of perceptions and feelings. Says she: "Children define what's special about people by contrasting them with their nearest neighbors, which have alway been the animals. People are special because they know how to think. Now children who work with computers see the computer as their nearest neighbor, so they see that people are special because they feel. This may become much more central to the way people think about themselves.