Sunday, October 23, 2016

It is nice to know that the computer understands the problem. But I would like to understand it too.

--- Eugene Wigner, quoted in Physics Today, July 1993 according to quote-wise.com

Found via a letter to New Scientist from Richard Cragg (13 Aug 2016, issue #3086):
Thank you for Regina Peldszus's review of Samuel Arbesman's book warning that we have reached the stage where very few “experts” really understand the complexity of the software systems they have installed to control critical parts of our infrastructure (23 July, p 42). This reminds me of the lament of Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner: “It is nice to know that the computer understands the problem. But I would like to understand it too.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

opinions embedded in math

--- Cathy O'Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, in an interview with IEEE Spectrum, October 2016

Quote in context

One of the things that makes big data so attractive is the assumption that it’s eliminating human subjectivity and bias. After all, you’re basing everything on hard numbers from the real world, right? Wrong. Predictive models and algorithms, says O’Neil, are really just “opinions embedded in math.” Algorithms are written by human beings with an agenda. The very act of defining what a successful algorithm looks like is a value judgement; and what counts as success for the builders of the algorithm (frequently profit, savings, or efficiency) is not always good for society at large.

Monday, October 03, 2016

I suspect that whatever cannot be said clearly is probably not being thought clearly either

--- Peter Singer in "Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter" (2016), quoted in The Economist review 17 September 2016

In the context of the review:

Mr Singer’s latest book, “Ethics in the Real World”, is a collection of 82 essays, each rarely more than three or four pages long. As such, it is an accessible introduction to the work of a philosopher who would not regard being described as “accessible” as an insult. As Mr Singer notes drily in the introduction, “I suspect that whatever cannot be said clearly is probably not being thought clearly either.”