From the intuitive human to the intuitive computer

kira-900x390In an early scene of Her, Spike Jonze’s 2013 romantic science fiction film, the protagonist, Theodore, purchases a new operating system marketed as a revolution in personalized computing. After setting up the operating system, Theodore asks its surprisingly personable female voice (played by the unseen Scarlett Johansson): “what makes you work?” The operating system, who names herself Samantha, responds: “I have intuition.”

How did intuition, once treated as the paradigmatic human capacity, come to be seen as a property of distributed computer networks? The proclamation of intuitive computers by Her and Cisco advertisements struck me. Two psychologists, writing in 1982, declared confidently that “fictional accounts of creative, sensitive, wise or intuitive computers are just that: fiction.” They advocated for a division of labor between managers and machines: computers should do what computers did best—to calculate and process data according to formal logic—while managers should stick to what humans do best, namely to perceive information holistically, seek patterns in data, and take intuitive leaps under conditions of uncertainty.

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