Big data and AI are not “objective”

AI, machine learning, etc only appear to be objective. In reality, they reflect the world view and prejudices of their developers.

 Algorithms have been empowered to make decisions and take actions for the sake of efficiency and speed…. the aura of objectivity and infallibility cultures tend to ascribe to them. . the shortcomings of algorithmic decisionmaking, identifies key themes around the problem of algorithmic errors and bias, and examines some approaches for combating these problems. This report highlights the added risks and complexities inherent in the use of algorithmic … decisionmaking in public policy. The report ends with a survey of approaches for combating these problems.

Source: An Intelligence in Our Image: The Risks of Bias and Errors in Artificial Intelligence | RAND

The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel – The Atlantic

Why did it take so long to invent the wheelbarrow? Have we hit peak innovation? What our list reveals about imagination, optimism, and the nature of progress.

Source: The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel – The Atlantic

A few years old, but still interesting. For example:

By expanding the pool of potentially literate people, the adoption of corrective lenses may have amounted to the largest onetime IQ boost in history.

Point-of-use medical tests go extreme:  sperm tests on a smartphone

Device costs less than $5 and can accurately measure the number and speed of swimmers. Source: With racy sperm pics on a smartphone, men can easily test fertility | Ars Technica If  only Theranos could do as well!

This is just a research project. But it’s still impressive. Smartphones have elaborate sensors, computation, networking, and even databases. Adding a custom sensor modifier will bring lots of inexpensive tests, medical and otherwise.

Medicine Grand Rounds at Stanford

Yesterday I gave a Grand Rounds presentation at Stanford Med School. My title was

Craft, Standardization and Automation: Powerful yet Perilous Paradigms for Control when Lives are at Stake

Most of my talk was about the adoption of procedures (checklists) by US military aviation, during and after WW II. It has close analogies to the situation of health-care today.  Here is my short presentation.  A much longer presentation, with more examples but without discussion of medicine, is here.

Initially, I was concerned that my topic might seem too esoteric for Stanford’s medical faculty. However, their Medical Grand Rounds program covers a lot of ground. My topic was only 1.5 standard deviations away from the mean.

For more of my research on flying paradigms and how technologies evolve from crafts to sciences, please see this page.


Art to Science: in making whiskey barrels

Whiskey is aged in oak barrels, and oak wood is highly variable. But barrel-making can still become much more scientific.

“Twenty-five years ago, it was more art than science. Now we have a healthy dose of science in with the art.” Larry Combs, the general manager for Jack Daniel’s

Recently, the two companies completed the decade-long Single Oak Project, in which they made 192 barrels, each using the wood from a single log, to find what constituted the “perfect” bourbon. (Among other things, they found that wood from the bottom of a tree made for the best aging.). Computers track each stave as it moves through assembly, while sensors analyze staves for density and moisture content. Instead of guessing how much to toast a barrel, operators use lasers and infrared cameras to monitor the temperature of the wood and the precise chemical signature that the heat coaxes to the surface — all subject to the customer’s desired flavor profile.“They’ve developed technologies so that if we say we want coconut flavors, they can apply this or that process” — like applying precise amounts of heat to different parts of the wood to tease out certain flavors — “and we’ll have it,” said Charles de Pottere, the director of production and planning at Jackson Family Wines…

… Black Swan makes barrels with a honeycomb design etched on the inside, which increases surface area and reduces a whiskey’s aging time.

Their approach: learn by experimentation, and use the new knowledge for tight process control. Same approach as machining, aviation, …. And this is a 400+ year old industry. Now I just need a word that’s better than “science” to describe this approach. (See my previous post.)

Last comment: according to the article, one of the main forces driving willingness to learn was competition from superior French barrels.

Source: Packing Technology Into the Timeless Barrel – The New York Times

Help! What’s a better way to say “art versus science?”

I’ve been working with a  colleague, Don Norman, on analyzing how the field of design has changed and will evolve in an era of smart machines. Don is back at UCSD, although since he retired from here about 20 years ago, he is limited to a fractional salary We overlapped at UCSD briefly, but I never appreciated what a usefully disruptive influence he can be. Or how many books he has written over the years.

I generally refer to “art and science” as opposite ends of a spectrum of how people work and how technologies evolve. See “Art to science” as a category in this blog. “Art to science” is widely used: “Job X is a mixture of art and science.” But neither word is correct.

Instead of “art,” I now use the correct term, which is “craft.”

But Don keeps pointing out that  “science” is not correct, either. Science is very important to technology, but it is a philosophy/methods for doing research, not for normal operation. What is a better  term? I keep thinking there should be a good Greek term, and I just located  this discussion of the Greek words Techne, Praxis, and Phronesis. But none of them is correct. Of course, the Greeks were pre-industrial by 2000 years, so it’s not surprising if they had no concept for “systematic and well understood work.”

Perhaps the Romans had  a word for  describing “the military science of systematically butchering barbarians?”   Any suggestions?