Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Old joke for a world that does not change

Might God have patented this round nuthouse idea?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Fundamentally, we do not understand

A lot of what we do is simple in nature but complex in practice because our workload is huge. For example, preparing an invoice is simple but preparing 10^7 invoices requires computers.

Similarly, in computer programming, it's relatively simple to write a function such as printf(). But to use that function effectively is much more difficult because of the possible interactions with other pieces of software. Evaluating each possible interaction does not take much time. But in today's software world, in which nobody has the time and energy to read and understand every single specification involved, doing a perfect job of interaction evaluation becomes impossible. Even if you think you are done, how do you know you did not miss something?

With this in mind, check out this article: software is being used by law firms to analyze documents, precisely because of the above problems. Ah, how I would like some software to show me all the specification violations implied in a program.

But the real issue is not that I can't beat a computer at chess or at Jeopardy. The real issue is why we have engineered our existence so that, even when considering every day tasks, it is not possible to understand what's going on. Why do we need so much complexity? What is the ultimate goal attained by playing this game? We should also consider the consequences of our actions. Are we sure we like the outcome?

In the future, software will be able to do much more than merely "google" documents. What would happen if the only way to change your world was to get an extremely advanced software degree (or equivalent expertise), so that you can write some software that beats other software at behaving like a human? What does that even mean? For instance, in a lawsuit, is your success predicated on the software you can afford? Phrases such as "a lawyer will be appointed to represent you" fundamentally assume all lawyers are at least competent. What happens when "competent" is far removed from what you can buy if you have enough money? And what happens when you can buy an AI that will tirelessly prove you right irrespective of the circumstance?

To me, this situation seems like some optimization challenge. Perhaps the way to optimize is not to help us solve larger piles of relatively simple problems faster but to eliminate the simple problems altogether. After all, we do not determine 1000 mod 5 is zero by repeated subtraction.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Follow the herd, lose your individuality

Check it out: evidence that agreeing to a "popular" opinion, even half-heartedly, actually changes your point of view. So, for example, louder music is better, and dynamic range compressed remasterings of old music are better. It doesn't matter that you think different, as long as you're exposed to other people that think these crappy recordings are good. Eventually, your brain will adapt to match.

Huh... so should we even listen to statements such as these?

  • The US unemployment rate is improving.
  • However, real estate will go through a double-dip even though unemployment was deemed the primary cause of buyer uncertainty.
  • Government employee unions caused huge budget deficits, so we need to cut their benefits while we cut business taxes so that more jobs are created. Or we need to cut business taxes because there isn't enough consumption to support more hires. Take your pick. But if we cut government employee salaries, those government employees will pay less for other things, so really it's a spending cut that ultimately will affect businesses... huh?
  • When you're done with the above, how about Blue Shield increasing health insurance premiums by 59%? Those are claimed to be "fair" increases. But how about unemployment and already low salaries, who's going to pay that? In any case, even the article spells out the truth: "California, which has 7 million uninsured people, the largest number of any single state, is mired in a $6 billion budget shortfall. "Until then, insurers continue to have the power to say 'No, we won't reduce rates,' and consumers have to say 'Yes, we will pay these higher rates,'" said Heller.". So, in other words, because we cut business taxes (or because of unions, or whatever you picked from before), then we the people have to either pay more taxes, or pay more health insurance. Huh. Where's my salary hike to put up with that? And why shouldn't businesses pay more taxes too?
And after you consider all these issues, and after you listen to all the published "popular" opinions, what happens to your brain? How do you know if you can even claim to be an "independent" thinker anymore?

I tell you, watch what you listen to, because it may corrupt your mind. And now, stop watching TV.