Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Reader’s comment: The numbers game


In response to Chris McGovern: Maths problem solved? No, Mr Hammond, KilowattTyler wrote:

There are certain things which are painfully obvious when one encounters almost any discussion in the MSM or in politics.

Firstly, most discussion is exclusively wordplay – spouting hackneyed slogans, special pleading, appeals to emotions and words used as codes for things other than their everyday meaning (‘justice’, ‘equality’, ‘fairness’ etc). Quantity is barely considered – so a topic such as immigration is discussed as though the amount of immigration is of no relevance. Numbers are used not as tools for analysis but as weapons for slogan-mongers. Notice how the ‘results’ of ‘studies’ tend to produce nice neat headline-worthy numbers of the ‘One in ten pupils are trans’ variety.

Secondly, there is no understanding at any level of dynamic systems. In current discussions about automation, for example, it does not appear to have occurred to any of the MSM gurus that if you design artificial intelligence to evolve by itself there will come a point, and not far into the future, at which all mental operations capable of being carried out by human beings will be overtaken by machine intelligence. As far as this sinks in at all, it is in the form of pompous academics spouting on about the ‘post-human age’, or old pseuds gibbering on about the Arts or the importance of appreciating the input of human emotion in goods and services.

Thirdly, there is no appreciation of the implications of what in maths and computer science is known as the ‘combinatorial explosion’. Without going into details, this means that unless one is careful, one can end up with a system that would take millions of years to do its job, even with the most high-powered computers. During the last years of the USSR, mathematicians in Estonia (a country which is rather good at sums) calculated that it would take all the computing power in the world ten million years to provide the information needed to run industry to meet the then-current Five Year Plan. This sort of effect is probably damaging public services like the police and the NHS. Because ministers and senior officials wish to know everything about everything and control everything, cops and doctors spend an increasing amount of time processing information in order to meet (possibly absurd) targets.

Not everyone can be a mathematician or a scientist. However, one needs to appreciate that maths and science provide the tools to analyse reality whereas slogans, ideology, words and beliefs do not. If schools at least provided the majority of pupils with this appreciation, and a road-map of common decision-making hazards, this would be a great step forward.

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