Kwabena Boahen, research scientist of neuromorphic engineering at Stanford did a very non-Negro, non-Pollyanna/Missionary thang in the middle of his TED Talk: he talked about what Africa can do for computing technology in front of a crowd (“multicultural” or not) that has been conditioned from birth to assume such relationships are psychedelic at best.
This YouTube.com comment in response to his presentation summarizes how most white people feel (of all skin colors) about this uppity behavior:
i feel like the commentator was a bit of an ass at the end. i know what he means—what does this have to do with africa? is there anything characteristically african about trying to build a neural network or a brain using transistors? … other than the fact that you’re from africa? we’ll likely see in a decade or two from the students he trains and the failures and successes of the work. maybe africa characterizes his audacity, and stubbornness that it takes to do science
It would not surprise me to find that white person who wrote this comment looks exactly like Kanye West. What we see above is an artifact of the racist subconscious—a vast bowl of pus—a white liquid oozing a masquerade of actual thought.
Kwabena Boahen, being one of hardest-working scientists I have ever seen (just look at his Stanford page again), probably did not have enough time to really plan his insinuation of Africa into his talk. Like most scientists (especially physicists) there can be an assumption that other subjects are easy to obtain and summarize quickly. When Kwabena Boahen used a quote from Brian Eno to support his African claims, I knew he was not going to hit the mark. Eno says (to Kevin Kelly in Wired 3.05):
Yes. Do you know what I hate about computers? The problem with computers is that there is not enough Africa in them. This is why I can’t use them for very long. Do you know what a nerd is? A nerd is a human being without enough Africa in him or her. I know this sounds sort of inversely racist to say, but I think the African connection is so important. You know why music was the center of our lives for such a long time? Because it was a way of allowing Africa in. In 50 years, it might not be Africa; it might be Brazil. But I want so desperately for that sensibility to flood into these other areas, like computers.
Kwabena Boahen put too much trust in his audience. He was expecting them to read this passage from the same Wired article:
Africa is everything that something like classical music isn’t. Classical—perhaps I should say “orchestral”—music is so digital, so cut up, rhythmically, pitchwise and in terms of the roles of the musicians. It’s all in little boxes. The reason you get child prodigies in chess, arithmetic, and classical composition is that they are all worlds of discontinuous, parceled-up possibilities. And the fact that orchestras play the same thing over and over bothers me. Classical music is music without Africa. It represents old-fashioned hierarchical structures, ranking, all the levels of control. Orchestral music represents everything I don’t want from the Renaissance: extremely slow feedback loops.
So the reason why your laptop gets hot is because vast amounts of energy is being wasted in your computer to uphold imperial principles of centralization, “old-fashioned hierarchical structures” and a global knowledge of control. So Kwabena Boahen would ask you the simple question: your brain has way more processing power than the most powerful computer of today—so how come your brain does not waste so much energy—how come your head does not get so hot?
So let’s jump over to Rice University professor Krishna Palem as reported by Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle:
On Sunday, Krishna Palem, speaking at a computer science meeting in San Francisco, announced results of the first real-world test of his probabilistic computer chip: The chip, which thrives on random errors, ran seven times faster than today’s best technology while using just 1⁄30th the electricity.
In the militaristic imperial system under which the European culturally ‘matured’ (also under which modern Africans are missionary entrained), the concept of developing technology that “thrives on random errors” is utterly crazy. No regular guy running an army would encourage a culture of error-making. The white-male-god-complex builds for a false sense of cleanliness and a false sense of perfection.
In traditional, Old Kingdom Africa, this simply was not the case. In a recent .NET Rocks! interview with Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell (I did a terrible job by the way), I mentioned that the first mobile phone networks were the talking drums—which happen to come from Dr. Boahen’s homeland.
To me, the intellectual foundation of Object Oriented Programming (and loose coupling) can be heard in the polyrhythmic ensembles of drummers originating throughout ancient Africa. The supposedly error-prone “contradiction” between togetherness and independence can be heard in African music. But the very idea that togetherness and independence are “opposites” that should contradict come not from an absolute, universal reality but rather from a specific imperial missionary training course that my down-home relatives called The Study of War. Study war no more!
Deeper still is Dr. Peter Chen’s crediting of the ancient Egyptian language (and, of course, Chinese languages) for the concept of the Entity—this concept makes sane database management possible.
I know from personal experience (with me) that respecting the power of concepts is very, very hard in an imperial system. Most of “us,” in a fascist world of hyper-violence and rape, don’t need to care much about the power of deep thought—and how nothing happens without someone thinking about it first. Our lack of continual involvement with the thinking process means someone else is doing the thinking for us…
By the simple fact of seniority, Africans born long before Columbus has to think for themselves. And foundational concepts that are still in use today—purposely deformed and accidently half-understood as they are—came from peoples who had no help from ‘another people’ simply because there were no other peoples but African peoples on Earth at the time. Notice the lack of “reverse racism” here…
The vast majority of traditional, wisdom-based African concepts have no purpose or even a context in a military industrial complex, covered in concrete, plastic, Kanye West and other cave-man-petroleum products. This applies to most indigenous wisdom the world over…