Digital evolution

Fascinating tidbit in Edge’s question of the year about optimism. Simon Baron-Cohen, at psychologist at Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre, argues that the digital age is a blessing for the autistic:

Some may throw up their hands at this increase in autism and feel despair and pessimism. They may feel that the future is bleak for all of these newly diagnosed cases of autism. But I remain optimistic that for a good proportion of them, it has never been a better time to have autism.

Why? Because there is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age. . . . Computers operate on the basis of extreme precision, and so does the autistic mind. Computers deal in black and white binary code, and so does the autistic mind. Computers follow rules, and so does the autistic mind. Computers are systems, and the autistic mind is the ultimate systemizer. The autistic mind is only interested in data that is predictable and lawful. The inherently ambiguous and unpredictable world of people and emotions is a turn off for someone with autism, but a rapid series of clicks of the mouse that leads to the same result every time that sequence is performed is reassuringly attractive. . . .

As I read this — and thought of people I have known in this industry who, though I have no idea of their diagnoses, display some of these signs and who are very good at their computer jobs — I started seeing the beginnings of a sci-fi novel: Autism and Aspergers grow through cultural Darwinism and I imagined a world where understanding machines better than people is the norm, a society of Spocks.

  • Intriguingly this Baron-Cohen is the uncle of Sacha Baron-Cohen. Both relations dealing with the study of human interaction and mutual miscomprehension. Only one doing it by handing faux faeces to shocked US matrons…


  • I’ve been thinking about this while YouTube response videos. All the normal conversational rules, like the small talk, and the back and forth between speaker and listener are stripped away. It’s just one person talking about their pet subject until they push the stop button. It seems very Aspergerish.

  • Martin

    There’s actually a great book on autism, social engineering, & “cures”. It’s “The Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon.

  • A more entertaining [lighter] read would be Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident, or more heavy duty would be Charlotte Moore’s George and Sam.
    Happy reading and keep debating.