Opinion 161: A quick rebuttal to Clifford Truesdell's 1982 Machino-Phobic Tirade: "The Computer: Ruin of Science and Threat to Mankind"

By Doron Zeilberger

Written: Sept. 9, 2017

A long time ago, before I started using computers seriously in my own research, I read, and got a little annoyed, by Clifford Truesdell's idiotic diatribe against computers, entitled "The Computer: Ruin of Science and Threat to Mankind". If you think that it is not nice of me to call his essay "idiotic", don't blame me. This essay is contained in his book (Springer, 1984) entitled "An Idiot's Fugitive Essays On Science". Of course Truesdell used it "tongue in cheek", or in its original Greek meaning that probably meant "non-conformist", but, at least this one essay- about the computer being the ruin of science- was already idiotic back then, and is so much more so today.

In fact, I agree with half of the title, the computer being a "threat to mankind" (and, may I add, womankind, and more generally, humankind). As computers get smarter and smarter (and smaller and smaller), we humans get dumber and dumber, and more sadly, lazier and lazier. That terrible gadget, the smartphone, is indeed the ruin of humankind, and because it is so distracting and addictive, prevents us from focusing on any one thing for more than a few minutes at a time. I often see people in talks, and classes, glancing at their smartphones, and texting, and, very rudely, hardly paying attention to the talk.

But computers are the opposite of the ruin of science. If, dear Cliff, by "science" you mean "human-generated science", then you are perfectly correct, but already traditional, human-generated science is fastly becoming pre science. Computers are the birth of true science, and its significance is orders-of-magnitude more than the invention of writing, the alphabet, the telescope and the microscope combined.

In particular, it is the birth of true, non-trivial, mathematics. In fifty years, all human-generated mathematics, including Wiles' and Perelman's theorems, will be considered utter trivialities, the same way that Euclid, Fibonacci, and Cardano are considered trivial today.

I don't have the patience, dear Professor Truesdell, to do a blow by blow rebuttal to your idiotic harangue, so let me pick a random sample.