“Robot” is a nonsense category

The Communications of the ACM recently ran an article titled, “How can we trust a robot?”

Thinking about the article led me to realize that the category "robot" is itself a piece of nonsense, drawn from science fiction, and having no basis in computer science.

We exist in a world in which computer programs control many real world outcomes. Often, those programs direct the operation of physical peripherals to achieve those outcomes. A payroll program that prints checks directs the operations of a printer. Is it therefore a "robot"? Should we ask the question, “How can we trust a payroll program?”

Well, of course we should, but not because it is some special entity called a "robot," but because this program will determine how much employees get paid, and if the program contains bugs, they will get paid the wrong amount. And whether we should trust it depends not on whether it conforms to "social norms," as the ACM article contends of "robots,…

No one plays against “odds”

Sports writers have become so enamored of "statistics" that they have come to imagine that teams and individuals are actually engaged in contests with statistical constructs, rather than with other teams.

For instance, when UMBC recently beat number one seed Virginia in the NCAA Men's Tournament, one sports site wrote that UMBC's victory “proved even the longest of odds aren't totally insurmountable.”

But David did not defat "odds": he defeated Goliath. And UMBC did not "surmount" any "odds": they beat the Virginia basketball team. 

That Virginia team was stocked with players stronger and more athletic than those on UMBC. And no doubt it is rare for a team physically outmatched, like UMBC, to beat their opponent.

But UMBC was not playing against, say, 125-to-1 (or whatever other odds Las Vegas, etc., had set for the game). They were playing against the concrete players on Virginia. And what they beat was not 125-to-1, but those particu…

Dear Lord,

We beseech thee,In thy infinite goodness,
Restore our prayer app to its proper working: It is through the app programmer’s fault, His own fault, His own most grevious fault, That these infernal bugs did enter the app; But through thy divine grace, And the gift of thy new Python debugger, It may come again to praise you, Without crashing, In a blessed instantiation: As it was in the loop initialization, Is in the loop invariant, And shall be at the loop termination, Amen

He did it his way...

"The concept of infinite God, the the divinity of the soul, of the link between the affairs of man and God, the concepts of moral good and evil, are concepts involved in the distant history of man's life that is hidden from our eyes, and those concepts without which life and I myself would not be, and rejecting all this labor of mankind, I wanted to do everything by myself, alone, anew, and in my own way." -- Leo Tolstoy, Confession

Elevating your English

I was once in a conversation in the UK that turned, believe it or not, on the differences between American and British English. One of my English friends remarked that it was so strange that we would refer to the apparatus in tall buildings as an “elevator“, when after all, it goes both up and down.

I looked at him with my head slightly cocked to one side. “And what do you call them over here?”
He thought for a second, and then responded, “Oh yeah…”
I think the reason for the bias toward the upside is that is what struck the first users of lifts as remarkable: getting something to plunge rapidly downward from a high floor of a building had always been fairly easy. It was lifting things up that hit people as the true achievement.

Now Emu86 has a nice website explaining it..

as well.

Or, at least we've got a start on one. Why not join in and add more!

That cute Docker whale

I was thinking how nice and friendly he looked, until I noticed...

Docker had scooped out his brain, and was using the cavity to carry crates!
He's not smiling because he's happy: he's smiling because he's been lobotomized!