MonthApril 2017

The Religion of Data – Homo Deus

What happens when computers know us better than we know ourselves? What happens when they predict how we will act and respond accordingly, when they can answer all questions and can respond to any change faster than we can comprehend it?

To some degree it’s already happening – large amounts of the stock exchange are automated due to the speed advantage and people are consulting IBM’s Watson for health information. However, very soon all aspects of our life will be influenced or controlled in some way by computers. This is the message put across by Yuval Noah Harari in his latest book, Homo Deus. It is the follow-up from the highly regarded Sapiens. In the book, Yuval explores the future of humankind in a world that is increasingly being taken over by computers.

From page one this book is gripping as it explains ideas and concepts that, by nature, are incomprehensible to us. The book also doesn’t shy away from challenging itself – throwing in the classic argument of consciousness and emotion, robots always lose in films because of love, right? But what if our emotions are just algorithms, then one day our personal computer will know our next emotion before we even feel it, they’ll be able to choose a wife or husband better than we can, they’ll know how we’ll feel if we don’t wake up in time for the gym and can change things according to ensure we follow our true intentions. This makes you sound very predictable, doesn’t it? What about our free will, you might ask. We have the control to change our mind if we really want to – if you think this, please read the book. The argument against this was very interesting in my opinion (no spoilers from me).

The Contradiction

There is a rather obvious contradiction or conflict in this book – it starts by talking about the human desire to eternal life and that such things may be possible in the near future. We only need to extend our lives by 20 years, to then find a way to extend it 50 years, to then find a way to extend it 100 years and so on. That will create a world full of people, literally. If the population increases then we will clearly reach capacity, yet the book goes on to say “individuals will become4242 just a collection of ‘biochemical subsystems’ monitored by global networks”. The book offers no suggestion for how the overarching computer systems might respond to an ever growing population and whether their algorithms will deem ‘population control’ necessary for efficient operation. Sounding a bit like the robot uprising now isn’t it…

In short, this is a book that will make you think, and quite honestly I will say this is a must read! It is easy to look back in history to see how nieve and clueless humankind was to the changing world and today is no different, things will change in ways we can’t yet imagine, so why not start understanding the possibilities.

Quantity Makes Quality

“So, how common are badminton schools in Malaysia?”

I was referring to education institutions that are in place to educate up and coming badminton stars, whilst they would get an education, continuous badminton training ready to be the nation’s next best is by far the priority.

I posed this question whilst visiting the University of Malaya, a University well-known in Malaysia for its sport science program. The recipient of my question was their deputy director and member of Malaysia’s Olympic Committee.

“What do you mean badminton schools?” She replied.

I explained how I had always imaged kids being sent to sporting schools from a young age so that badminton would be a priority for them.

“We don’t have any here in Malaysia, perhaps in other Asian countries, but here everyone plays and trains at their local clubs and if they’re good enough they’ll move to the National training center.”

Another person in the room spoke up to explain how they got into badminton and that many start out socially and if they’re good enough they seek coaching, but really there is very little in terms of a National structure for grassroots development – essentially because everyone is already playing!

This shocked me as Malaysia is seen as one of the powerhouses for the sport, year on year they produce world class athletes and yet many countries with strong set-ups will suffer each year, perhaps getting one or two stars rather than a big squad.

After spending two weeks playing in Malaysia (it was actually my second visit to the country in 6 months) and speaking to many former state representatives that were on the edge of elite and national training I believe the way they get their quality is purely from a very, very high quantity of players and facilities. The campus we stayed on had a badminton hall, the adjacent campus also had one, behind the campus was a 10 court badminton hall, jump in the car for 10 minutes and you’re at a 22 court hall, head in the other direction and you’ll probably find the same. The number of badminton courts per square mile must be a ridiculous ratio, and what’s more is that the courts are always booked!

The same is true for clubs and teams, our campus had a team, the adjacent campus (which is for the parent University of where we were staying) had a team, we played against numerous local clubs and at a local academy. Every time the teams were made of very high standard players that were just playing socially. The volume is atonishing.

It makes sense that if so many people are playing so often then by probability you will get lots of stars – it’s the constant and ease of exposure to high-level badminton that increases all their levels rather than the need for a clear national structure.

What’s the point I’m getting at? Sometimes you just need a high quantity to achieve the quality you are after, repeating things over and over for practice is perhaps the best comparison for day to day life. It doesn’t have to be fancy to work!

© 2018 Adam Ian Stewart

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑