The Technocrat Priest
Reassuringly, the technology in the Cooper Union auditorium was occasionally uncooperative. The most charming glitch resulted in Philip Beesley sitting on the edge of the stage with his laptop facing the audience (which he beckoned to the front rows) to supplement his talk. His command performance needed no illustrations, though the intimacy was appreciated and welcome comic relief.
The most final and most interesting question of the afternoon, by presenter Usman Haque, suggested an image that made my day; the Technocrat Priest. He asked, after an array of presentations that posited, on the one hand, the exponential complexity of data as it addresses increasingly complex problems (David Benjamin's proposition) and the necessity of going beyond data to elicit meaning (as in, among others, Natalie Jeremijenko's 'twin tree' paradox):
Quoting St. Anselm's 'proof' of the existence of God, “God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived” and pointing to David Benjamin's earlier proof of infinite complexity from relatively simple dimensions his question suggested that 'creation' might be either divine inspiration or the result of unimaginable data processing. The Priest or the Technocrat. Or the Technocratic Priest if we can imagine 'that which nothing greater can be conceived' as being the apotheosis of both the divine and the technological.
It raises the issue of faith in data and and faith in general (is data truth? whose data? and what truth?). And it suggests that transcending data is a necessary part of action, creation and invention. While it conjures an image of considerable humor, it also reminds me that for millennia the Technocrat Priest presided over the greatest creations of human consciousness in the form of buildings, art, music and literature.
The day started with Kazys Varnelis mentioning Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, who I once saw say 'when Google has finally made all world knowledge accessible to everyone, it will be impossible to perpetuate a lie'.
And so we even have a Technocratic Priest preaching absolution through data!
Engraving of Erasmus by E. Schriven
Book Jacket of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, Paul Hoffman author, designed by Carin Goldberg