The algorithm, and the genealogy of machines of thought to which it belongs, has been correcting us for a very long time. The development of a system that might ‘calculate’ the truth is arguably as old as the idea of the machine itself, and is certainly inseparable from it. This essay by Francesca Hughes explores the idea of the Universal Languages of Gottfried Leibniz, Francis Bacon et al, as proto learning machines, prone to overfitting, and a product of our abiding fear of imagination itself.
“Our most ancient and exquisite self-correcting tool has always been neither the pen nor the scalpel, but the algorithm. Latent in the prehistory of the algorithms that now organise almost every aspect of the designed environment and mediate our every intention or desire is, quite simply, a facility for correction.”