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Peters reserves special contempt albeit genial contempt, for Peters is invariably irenic in tone for the Turing Test. Computer scientist Alan M. Turing, it will be recalled, set the agenda for artificial intelligence research with his model of a "game" in which a person in one room communicates through a keyboard with someone or something in another room.

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Turing defined the goal to create a machine so "intelligent" that a person could not tell whether he or she was communicating with a human or a machine. He notes that Cambridge University, where Turing worked, was "the historical center of interest in the ether and psychical research in England" ; artificial Intelligence and spiritualism are linked in surprising ways.

Speaking into the Air A History of the Idea of Communication

He implies that Turing's own anxieties about living in a homosexual body in a homophobic society led him to privilege disembodied intelligence over a fuller appreciation of embodied humanity. Peters' concern with the physical as opposed to the psychical properties of communication is the key to his answer to the "problem" of communication. For almost all thinkers about the topic focus on communication as a problem. For communication theorists, the central issue to overcome is the "failure to communicate" as the tag line from Cool Hand Luke has it and which is quoted once, as is probably obligatory for books of this kind and then, mercifully, not belabored.

For Peters, the failure to communicate is the starting point for real communication. Because interpretation is always necessary between communicators, there is the "possibility of interaction" But Can we love one another or treat each other with justice and mercy? Peters says we should accept our finitude, the reality of pluralism, and the opaqueness of language rather than search for perfectionism in dialogue or precise forms of expression.

Indeed, Peters says "most of the time we understand each other quite well; we just do not agree" Peters rejects idealist notions in favor of accepting an imperfect world and pragmatically seizing the opportunities provided by that imperfection. Peters' work can be seen as a part of the revival of pragmatism launched by, among others historian Robert Westbrook and philosopher Richard Rorty only the latter is cited here, and only in passing.

John Durham Peters's Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication

What seems clear to me from Peters' analysis is that the idea of "communication" is the contingent historical outgrowth of individualist, technological modernism. Solipsism is the great fear of communication theorists, who, along with idealist philosophers, imagine individuals isolated in private rooms trying to reach out to others in similar private rooms and wonder how communication is possible.

This model seems to have gained currency among philosophers as the European bourgeoisie actually experienced the solitude of private rooms. Such privacy was all but unknown in rural and village life, and even in bourgeois culture, private bedrooms for each child, for example, are largely a twentieth century development. What Peters hints at but does not fully develop, is that the "problem of communication" is the unintended consequence of privacy and individualism as developed in the last two hundred years. The social history of communication is an issue that Peters could profitably have developed, and one can only hope that in future he will turn his iconoclastic eye to that topic.

Author: Stuart D. Hobbs vol. Hobbs Peters, John Durham.

John Durham Peters's Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication

Appendix, index. Stuart D. Hobbs Ohio Historical Society shobbs ohiohistory. For more information please contact mpub-help umich.

Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication

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Introduction: The Problem of Communication 1. Dialogue and Dissemination 2. History of an Error: The Spiritualist Tradition 3. Phantasms of the Living, Dialogues with the Dead 5.