… according to a new book by Ian Ayres, an econometrician and law professor at Yale, this is a microcosm of a powerful trend that will shape the economy for years to come: the replacement of expertise and intuition by objective, data-based decision making, made possible by a virtually inexhaustible supply of inexpensive information. Those who control and manipulate this data will be the masters of the new economic universe. Ayres calls them "Super Crunchers," which is also the title of his book, the latest attempt to siphon off a bit of the buzz that surrounds the hugely successful Freakonomics.[Abstract from Newsweek]

Intuition replaced by statistics. Should one therefore learn to ignore one's intuition or at least ascribe less value to it? And what about quick heuristics, rules of thumb, 'blink'-like judgments… and millions of years of instinctual bias?

Roger Arnold asks:

Are there computer systems that are being designed to handle macro issues as well? I would think that would be highly complex and beyond the scope of computers today.

Nigel Davies replies:

MasadaI can answer that for you - they don't have a hope. And I can tell you exactly why:

Despite huge resources' having been pumped into "solving" a tiny, limited game called chess, computers are just rubbish at the kind of creative synthesis of ideas at which the human brain excels. And it shows. They are totally unable to balance factors such as doubled pawns against the initiative. They just don't "think" like that.

Sure, they've made "progress," they can now beat human chess players by employing huge processing power, crunching a zillion variations a second and never getting tired. The Romans had a much better win when they took Masada.

Vincent Andres remarks:

You don't have to commit suicide! Computers are our allies — we just have to use them. Of course we have to learn to speak to them.

"I hate computers: they always do what I tell them, never what I want!"

Nigel Davies explains:

Deep Blue vs Kasparov 1997 Game 6There have been attempts to run tournaments with the players having assistance from computers — they call it "Advanced Chess." But in activities which enhance our experience of life, computers have no part. It's kind of like having computerized yoga.

The suicide has been the chess world's insistence on pitting man versus machine, which brought the computer manufacturers their Phyrric victory and allowed claims that computers were now showing "intelligence." But to me this is like claiming a Porsche is an athlete if it can beat a human in a marathon. Computers are still just number crunchers as far as I'm concerned.

I like computers; they are nice obedient slaves. But the claims they are showing any kind of intelligence is just bunk. All that has happened is that they're crunching faster.

Does fast crunching lead to consciousness and the human ability to reason? I don't think so. Humans crunch very slowly but are nonetheless able to deal with problems in which crunching is less effective. One demonstration is the miserable failure of computers in Go, which is still a closed game but "bigger" than chess. As for non-closed systems they will, therefore, be utterly hopeless.

There is another issues arising from the way that many humans are now assuming that computers have intelligence and assuming that computerized models are going to work. This viewpoint is not only wrong, the reliance on computerized models can lead to people's suspending their own intelligence or subjugating it to the computer's ideas. This is one of the main problems when human Grandmasters try to look at a chess position with a computer running in the background — they end up letting the computer take the lead.

These are very complex issues which the world will be addressing over the coming decades. But there are great dangers here, and I believe this effect was behind both LTCM and the current banking crisis.

Vincent Andres responds:

Brute force algorithms are used in chess. But they are so many other ways! Computers are doing many other things in so many and so far different ways than brute force. Chess was a challenge for number-crunching, but please don't reduce computer science to that.

Do not confound newspapers and computer scientists. We knew for years what the end of the chess story had to be. Nobody is surprised, nobody is overproud. It was a tedious job — but it had to be done. 10^30 computations had to be done, 10^31 were achieved.

In the computer science community there were few remaining people interested by the human/machine chess battle. Even the finances for the projects were questioned. A complete battle of the past, as far back as 1995 for many of us.





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