Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Proofreading, part 22

Proofreading a Torah is a tremendous task, requiring much memory and data processing and demanding infallible accuracy. Computers, of course, have much memory and data processing ability, and are notoriously accurate. Having established that computer checking can be part of proofreading, one frequently hears the question “Why can't the computer do it all?"

I think we've mostly answered that, under the heads of human error and technological limitations, but I find the question itself interesting. Why would anyone think the computer could do it all?

A child of my generation, it came as something of a surprise to me to realise that some people genuinely do think of computers as infinitely clever, infinitely powerful (Which kind of makes sense - when “the system" is down, utter helplessness ensues, so one might unconsciously infer that non-helpless states are only possible when the system is up). And if you see a computer as a magical mystery box that can do all sorts of things you couldn't possibly do, I suppose it makes sense that you would think a computer could do a much better job of checking a Torah than you could, just like it can do a spellcheck better than you can.

Except that of course the computer's spellchecking ability only goes so far, and you yourself still have to check for anomalies the spellcheck isn't clever enough to spot – and computer checking of Torahs is just the same.

The computer is a good tool which gets most things right most of the time; it makes life a lot easier, can't live life for you, and that applies just as much to checking Torahs as it does to anything else we do.

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