This is an extract from my recent review article in Inside Story, focusing on Ellen Broad’s Made by Humans
For the last thousand years or so, an algorithm (derived from the name of
an Arab a Persian mathematician, al-Khwarizmi) has had a pretty clear meaning — namely, it is a well-defined formal procedure for deriving a verifiable solution to a mathematical problem. The standard example, Euclid’s algorithm for finding the greatest common divisor of two numbers, goes back to 300 BCE. There are algorithms for sorting lists, for maximising the value of a function, and so on.
As their long history indicates, algorithms can be applied by humans. But humans can only handle algorithmic processes up to a certain scale. The invention of computers made human limits irrelevant; indeed, the mechanical nature of the task made solving algorithms an ideal task for computers. On the other hand, the hope of many early AI researchers that computers would be able to develop and improve their own algorithms has so far proved almost entirely illusory.
Why, then, are we suddenly hearing so much about “AI algorithms”? The answer is that the meaning of the term “algorithm” has changed.
Read More »
I’ve just done a review article for Inside Story. The headline is Will a robot take my job? but the central point is that this is the wrong question to ask. While technology has a logic of its own, what really matters is our current set of economic and social structures, the financialised version of capitalism commonly called “neoliberalism“.
The article is a review of three excellent books:
2062 by Toby Walsh;
Made by Humans by Ellen Broad; and
The Future of Everything by Tim Dunlop
Read my review and buy the books!
The issues dominating Australian public debate are many and various But most of them can be summed up as the defence of Australian institutions that have been under attack by radical extremists. I’m referring to such institutions as the ABC, CSIRO, the weekend, public education, the union movement, the fair go our natural environment and our indigenous heritage. Mention of any of these is enough to raise a derisive sneer from the radical rightwing apparatus that dominates much of Australian politics, most obviously the supporters of Tony Abbott who (ludicrously) call themselves “conservatives”.
Turnbull promised something better but was, if anything, worse than Abbott. So far, it seems as if Morrison is going to continue the trend. Having dumped nearly all his unpopular economic policies, he’s left with nothing but the culture war, which would be more accurately described as a war on culture.
Something I read a lot in political discussion is the claim “We shouldn’t be wasting time on Issue X”. Almost invariably, the writer clearly has strong views on Issue X, supports the status quo, and is aware that some change has majority support. So, their best hope is to avoid any decision at all. Of course, while statements like this logically imply that the speaker shouldn’t waste their own time on the issue, this inference is rarely drawn. The same people who tell us not to waste our time on some proposed change will spend lots of their own time fighting against it.
Feel free to point to examples or, for that matter, counterexamples.
Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.
If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link
The publication date for my new book, Economics in Two Lessons, is set for May 2019. Until then, I’m putting extracts up on a Facebook page I’ve set up. Here’s the first one, part of the Introduction.