Algorithms and Meaning

In the lastest OLDaily, Downes comments this older essay: “Literature is not Data”.

“data (as we know it) is about mass, while meaning is based on context and connection.”

I think I recognize the meaning of this comment, from the background of Downes’ long-standing work on connections and recognition:


I would not be able to understand it by algorithmic analysis. Even less so, algorithms would clarify the statements in Marche’s essay such as:

“words mean so much more than they mean”; “Meaning is mushy. Meaning falls apart. Meaning is often ugly, stewed out of weakness and failure.”; “Literature is irredeemably broken and messy.”; “Algorithms are inherently fascistic.”

There is much food for thought in the current controversies around Digital Humanities. In a debate with a computational linguist at DHd2014, Prof. Thaller gave a remarkable hint (in German; unprofessional translation is mine):

“We need humanities who clearly understand what of them can be algorithmically implemented, such that they are able to concentrate on the ‘remainder’.” (33:48, Slide 28)

(Thanks to @armin_volkmann fot tweeting that the talk was well worth seeing.)

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