“Human” Automation

Job Description of a “Picker” in an Amazon warehouse (via the FT):

The last group, the “pickers”, push trolleys around and pick out customers’ orders from the aisles. Amazon’s software calculates the most efficient walking route to collect all the items to fill a trolley, and then simply directs the worker from one shelf space to the next via instructions on the screen of the handheld satnav device….“You’re sort of like a robot, but in human form,” said the Amazon manager. “It’s human automation, if you like.” Amazon recently bought a robot company, but says it still expects to keep plenty of humans around because they are so much better at coping with the vast array of differently shaped products the company sells.

The bolded line touches upon a theme I have analysed many times, most recently in the essay ‘Technological Unemployment Amidst Stagnation’:

Many routine jobs that have provided avenues of mass employment during the twentieth century have typically been jobs requiring the use of human sensory and motor skills, skills that have proven hardest to automate. This phenomenon is known as ‘Moravec’s Paradox’ named after the artificial intelligence researcher Hans Moravec who observed that those skills we typically identify with intelligence (e.g. rational decision making) tend to be the skills that are easiest to replicate via an artificial intelligence (a combination of data and algorithms). But those skills that even a baby possesses, such as the ability to move around complex environments and pick up a variety of objects, tend to be the hardest to replicate in a robot. In a way some of what separates from the machines is what unites us with the animals.

Gentlemanly Conduct In Sport

FOOTBALL: Forward Passes Considered Ungentlemanly

From ‘Inverting The Pyramid’:

The dribbling game prevailed, largely because of Law Six, the forerunner of the offside law: ‘When a player has kicked the ball, anyone of the same side who is nearer to the opponent’s goal line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until he is in play…’ In other words, passes had to be either lateral or backwards; for Englishmen convinced that anything other than charging directly at a target was suspiciously subtle and unmanly, that would clearly never do…….
Even when Law Six was changed in 1866, following Eton’s convention and permitting a forward pass provided there were at least three members of the defensive team between the player and the opponent’s goal when the ball was played (that is, one more than the modern offside law), it seems to have made little difference to those brought up on the dribbling game.

CRICKET: Hitting the Ball to the Leg-Side Considered Ungentlemanly

Gideon Haigh:

As a schoolboy at Repton at the time, CB Fry was told that “if one hit the ball in an unexpected direction on the on side, intentionally or otherwise, one apologised to the bowler… The opposing captain never, by any chance, put a fieldsman there; he expected you to drive on the off side like a gentleman.”…..
as Monty Noble recalled: “When I first wielded a bat it was considered distinctly bad cricket to pull on the on-side, where there were no fieldsmen, a ball pitched outside the off stump or on the wicket. It had, forsooth, to be played in the regular and approved manner either straight or to the off-side where there were nine and often ten obliging fielders waiting to gather it in. The batsman was supposed to wait until the bowler lost his accuracy and direction and at length pitched one outside the leg stump before it was polite to dispatch it for four to where no fieldsman lurked.”

Aldo Leopold on the Resilience-Stability Tradeoff

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.

Source (emphasis mine)

The last line of the above quote refers to how wolves in their predatory role protect the mountains from being denuded by herbivores such as deers.

Western Philosophy vs Chinese Philosophy

Crucial question for Western Philosophy:

“What is the truth?” i.e. how to look before you leap.

Crucial question for Chinese Philosophy:

“Where is the Way?” i.e. how to leap without looking.

via A.C. Graham on page 3 of the ‘Disputers of the Tao’ who notes that

the crucial question for [Chinese philosophers] is not the Western philosopher’s ‘What is the truth?’ but ‘Where is the Way?’

Good Mistakes

Taniyama was not a very careful person as a mathematician. He made a lot of mistakes. But he made mistakes in good direction, so eventually he got to right answers. I tried to imitate him, but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.

- Goro Shimura on Yutaka Taniyama in Fermat’s Last Theorem