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The JC pontificates about technology
An occasional series.
Who do you think you are, Boris Spaskisaurus?

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A complicated, but not complex, system. Therefore not a great grounds for concluding that software is going to eat the world and turn we mortal meatsacks into battery-pods for Skynet, but that won’t stop thought leaders from leaping to just that conclusion anyway.

Will chess-playing AI chatbots take your job, or is this just a lazy analogy? Well, it’s mainly lazy. Ask yourself: “is my job like chess?” If it is, you should get your coat. The sooner you start looking for a job that isn’t, the better.

Is your job like Chess?
Feature Chess Not Chess
Complexity Complicated. Complex.
Number of players Two Who can say? Day one it looked like, for all intents and purposes, about fifty, but it keeps changing. People come, people go. Business priorities change. GFC. Brexit. Covid. Management consultants. Come to think of it, the fundamental undecidability of my job is one of the things I like best about it.
Rules Simple. Static. Common. Unclear, changing, often differing between players, incomplete, wildly susceptible to interpretation, liable to change without warning or good reason.
Logic Fully logical. Basically irrational, except by accident.
Outcome zero-sum non-zero sum.
Data All relevant data available to both players at all times. Incomplete, mainly absent. What data there are will be ambiguous, unevenly distributed, and may only emerge once it is too late to react.
Language Mathematical. No scope for ambiguity Ambiguous, metaphorical; requiring interpretation and psychology. Much of it deliberately opaque. Much of it unintelligible. Much of what is untelligible is nonsense.
Boundaries Entirely bounded: two players, 8 x 8 board, 16 pieces each. None. Whatever you bring to the party.

Now, it is true that algorithms, and combinations of algorithms, can help crunch data and provide you with information that you might not otherwise have that give you more tools for making those value judgments that wicked environments impose on you. But while you’re fiddling around with your kit, the other guy might just have already shot you, you know?

A boffin writes:

JC: Where there are ambiguous, irrational and changing goals, a “game” with no defined boundaries, no rules, and data is incomplete and ambiguous, aren’t even the cleverest algorithms at best wasteful, but mainly useless? Aren’t fallible humans who can narratise, empathise and hypothesise are better at figuring out what to do?

Boffin: I would rather have the tools. Let’s say that we challenge each other to a duel to the death. No rules, starting right now. If I can use algorithms to track you, your money, your use of transport, and so on and all of your behaviors to predict where you are going, who is helping you, what you are doing to hurt me, and I also have data about you that predicts all of this. Even in a completely wicked game, if I had a data and algorithms I can use a series of predictions, but then my human judgment and creativity to tilt the probability that I have a more positive outcome than not having it.

JC: What, so are we doing this?

Boffin: Sure! [Starts fiddling with his iPad]

JC: Okay. [Snatches iPad and smashes it on the ground].

Boffin: Hey!

JC: Got an algorithm for that, Lunch Money?

And in any case, this is no different to how humans have used technology since the plough. Ploughs don’t plough fields by themselves, after all — and they can’t help us with when, or which field, to plough. You are still needed.

So, truck drivers: time to start thinking about a new career now, because in ten years’ time you are going to be in a tight spot. Lawyers — there’s a bit more lead time for you.

See also