Category Archives: Innovative/Creative

The problems with models versus the real world

Model-land is a hypothetical world in which our simulations are perfect, an attractive fairy-tale state of mind in which optimising a simulation invariably reflects desirable pathways in the real world. Decision-support in model-land implies taking the output of model simulations at face value (perhaps using some form of statistical post-processing to account for blatant inconsistencies), and then interpreting frequencies in model-land to represent probabilities in the real-world.

The following is something I see nearly every day in the media – where the model output is presented as the real world (even when the real world is different):

As a trivial example, when writing about forecasts of household consumption, energy prices, or global average surface temperature, many authors will use the same name and the same phrasing to refer to effects seen in the simulation as those used for the real world. It may not be the case that these authors are actually confused about which is which, the point is that readers of conclusions would benefit from a clear distinction being made, especially where such results are presented as if they have relevance to real-world phenomena and decision-making.

For what we term “climate-like” models, the realms of sophisticated statistical processing which variously “identify the best model”, “calibrate the parameters of the model”, “form a probability distribution from the ensemble”, “calculate the size of the discrepancy” etc., are castles in the air built on a single assumption which is known to be incorrect: that the model is perfect.

….

It is not clear why multi-model ensembles are taken to represent a probability distribution at all; the distributions from each imperfect model in the ensemble will differ from the desired perfect model probability distribution (if such a thing exists); it is not clear how combining them might lead to a relevant, much less precise, distribution for the real-world target of interest.

Source: 1662970102.pdf

The last paragraph quoted above is something that has long bothered me about model ensembles.

This paper is a good read. Click on the link above to read the full paper.

Thompson, Erica L.; Smith, Leonard A. (2019) : Escape from model-land, Economics Discussion Papers, No. 2019-23, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), Kiel. Retrieved from: https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/194875/1/1662970102.pdf

Dean Kamen, his organization, the magic of invention

Some of the best inventors I know didn’t have a deep knowledge of any particular technology. They had a deep understanding of what the need is and what we would today call intuition — because we don’t know at the granular level what intuition is — they’d have an intuition about how to solve the problem and then they might go to PhDs for help in implementation.

I think invention is maybe like love. Everybody wants to have it. Nobody knows what it is. It’s an amorphic process. The public has an overly simplistic view of inventors. They suddenly have this brilliant vision and they go running down the street saying,“eureka I’ve got it!” Invention is an iterative, frustrating process in which you keep finding all the wrong ways to get to where you wanted to go. You back up, try a new route, hit another stumbling block, fall down. Eventually you integrate enough of the ideas that might have should have could have would have worked into something that actually does work. Then the world sees it and think it was a straight line from your idea to that solution. That there was instant clarity. As opposed to this iterative, long struggle.

Source: A conversation with Dean Kamen on the myth of “Eureka!” | TechCrunch

I find people like Dean Kamen, Elon Musk, etc to be incredibly inspiring in their tenacity in pursuing and find solutions to real world problems – as compared to those creating endless social media thingies in Silicon Valley 🙂

If you enjoy the process of discovery, invention and engineering solutions, this is a great and enjoyable article to read – highly recommended!

“Fisherman Builds DeLorean-Style Hovercraft, Aims for Google Job”

I need to finish my hovercraft (really):

His resume includes crab fisherman and maker of a hovercraft that looks like the car from the movie “Back to the Future.”

via Fisherman Builds DeLorean-Style Hovercraft, Aims for Google Job – Bloomberg.

Attention Google (or Microsoft!) Recruiters – he’s finishing an MA in political science and says he wants a tech job, so he’s building a hovercraft to attract attention.

On the other hand, I have a degree in computer science, an MBA and in another few weeks will finish my M.S. in software engineering (and my thesis has to do with smart phones). I’ve worked in Silicon Valley and for Microsoft and other places too, plus written seven technical books. And I’m ready to relocate.

Did I mention I’m building a hovercraft? The project is further along than what is shown in this old photo. But heck, if this is what it takes, I’m on track! Or “on the bubble” as they say in hovering.

Update: I need all the self promotion I can get. I also have a pilot’s license, an amateur radio license, and I am an amateur astronomer and author. Hello Google? 🙂

 

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Future trends in Information Systems and Technology

This past Saturday I attended an IEEE Computer Society-Seattle sponsored seminar on future trends in information systems and technology. Speakers covered a very wide range of topics.  Here is a bullet point list of some key thoughts from the seminar:

  • The fastest growing market opportunities involve the mobile space.
  • Mobile means smart phones, tablets plus literally billions of devices expected in the years to come that communicate wirelessly.
  • Mobile also means cloud computing.
  • Desktop computers have become massive overkill for many businesses with 90% of the desktop resource literally unused (in terms storage, processing power and even unused in time).  These will be replaced with apps running on smart phones and tablets which are with you all the time. Few people carry a notebook computer to meetings anymore.
  • Applications are gradually moving to “simple”.  No one takes a training class to use the google.com search website. Few people need training classes to use their smart phone app. This is what one called the “Consumerization” of business applications. Companies do not want to spend time and money on training and are looking for ways to get out of that.
  • All applications are likely to be developed in iterative fashion (e.g. agile methodology) and will scale upwards as needed to handle larger capacity (cloud computing where more services can just be added as needed, when needed)
  • Applications are becoming “game-ified”. That is, we see even a progress bar on LinkedIn, and we keep track of how many network contacts we have, or how many friends we have on social media websites. Some firms offer “rewards” for achieving goals. All of these ideas come from gaming – and they apparently work and give status recognition to customers.
  • All mobile devices must be treated as untrusted devices within corporate information systems.  Android suffers from malware made possible by Android’s open marketplace. Corporate information security folks are terrified of Android devices on their network, said one. This gives the security edge to iPhone, and either RIM’s Blackberry (shrinking market share) or Windows Mobile Phone (not yet with any market share).
  • Social media is where all the customers are today. Businesses know this and it has many future impacts. Of course, it means advertising on social media; it means engaging customers on social media. Upset customers have a disproportionate influence with social media. Twenty years ago, I heard that only 1 in 27 dissatisfied customers complained to the business; the rest just never came back, but they did tell friends of their bad experience. With social media, all bad experiences quickly multiple.
  • Facebook Stores is going to be a killer application for social media. When people check their Facebook updates constantly throughout the day, this simplifies the online shopping experience – plus sharing and peer pressure can be used to drive sales.
  • Most non-IT businesses (think retailers, manufacturers and so on) will most likely outsource their IT functions. Unless IT provides a competitive advantage (e.g. Amazon), most companies have no business trying to do their own IT and many admit to not doing it very well. Everything will be outsourced. The IT function will be run by “business professionals” and those focused on the business, rather than technology.
  • Corollary: For most businesses, IT is not providing a sustainable competitive advantage, just as having electricity does not provide a sustainable advantage when everyone has it.
  • What happens to the job market for those working in information systems or information technology?
  • One speaker suggested that anyone doing individual contributor work in a cubicle today will not have a job within ten years. All such work will migrate outwards to the lowest cost supplier, which often means offshore. This becomes simpler as IT is treated as a utility (think like electricity).  Few businesses have a Chief Electricity Officer and run their own power systems.
  • Most businesses should outsource their application development.This creates opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs to do 1 or 2 things better than everyone else and sell that capability to others.  On an individual level, individuals should also strive to do 1 or 2 things better than everyone else and work in organizations with lots of smart people. (Corollary would be that the “era of the generalist is dead” and if you are not surrounded by smart people, your career will not survive.)
  • Within business organizations, the IT person who survives will focus on business, innovating, doing data analysis, business development, management functions and outsourcing IT since IT is just a commodity like electricity.
  • Higher education is not turning out information system students with the skills that employers actually want.
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