Sunday, February 16, 2014

Redundancy for taxi drivers

One of the best things about being the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that I know everything, including the future. Alas it does mean that for me there is no such thing as a “surprise” present. And when people pray to me, I know what they are trying to communicate to me before they do. But what should you tell the being (me) that knows everything? You could try asking me for something. But there’s no point really, because even before you were born I knew you were going to want it. You can’t add any new information to the set of all knowledge ( the FSM). I know everything, including what you are feeling and what you will feel.

On the other hand, you can of course receive knowledge from the FSM. But when praying, you’ll never be sure if you’ve got some real FSM wisdom or you’re just talking to your own personal imaginary friend. Even if you go to the official reformed pastafarian website, how can you know that what you’re looking at isn’t just a fake. The answer is of course faith.

But if you want strong evidence of real wisdom, look for predictions and see if they come true. The FSM would like to take this opportunity to make some (infallible) predictions:

For over 100 years, taxi drivers have been a part of the culture in each city. In every region they are somewhat different, but there is much that they have in common with the global community of taxi drivers. And they have a shared future: redundancy. The vast majority of taxi drivers are going to lose their jobs in a few years. This will become clear to you all even before Nissan release their driverless car in 2020. The driverless car will be significantly safer than an old-fashioned taxi with a driver. And they will be much much cheaper. So here are some predictions:

1: By 2022 there will be some cities round the world with driverless cabs available.

2: By 2030 the number of taxi drivers employed round the world will be less than 20% the number in 2014.

3: Private car ownership will fall dramatically. Now in 2014 private cars spend most of the time idle. Just sitting there parked. The driverless cabs will be shared much more and so fewer of them are required.

4: The demand for parking will collapse as people move to using driverless taxis

5: Eventually human driven vehicles will be banned from most roads.

6: The rate of accidents will be so low that countries will drop the requirement that passengers need seat belts.

Clearly I know when 3 - 6  above become true, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, so I’ll let you guess. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Divine advice: boil water before drinking

We know what love is. If you love someone then you will be prepared to go to great lengths to keep that person from harm. However, we are also prepared to help a stranger, not because we love them, but just because we have human decency.

If you’re visiting a family in an underdeveloped part of the world and you see they are drinking untreated water then you will tell them that they should boil the water before drinking it. That is not an act of love. It is just a simple act of kindness.

Before the 19th century, scientists hadn't worked out that water sometimes contains dangerous microbes and that they can mostly be rendered harmless by boiling the water.

Throughout history, one thing that has been quite common and indeed still happens is that people claim to be messengers or prophets from God or even incarnations of God.
Suppose someone who lived before the 19th century claims:
1: to be a messenger from God
2: God is all knowing
3: God loves humans

then we can be pretty sure that the message will include the advice to boil water before drinking  it.

If God is all-knowing, then he knows that with a few simple words he can prevent millions of children dying painful deaths. If he loves us, then he will tell us to boil water before drinking it. That is what love is.

However, if the messenger does not mention anything about boiling water, then we can be pretty certain that at least one of the items 1,2 and 3 must be false.

Perhaps we could tweak number 3. We could redefine “love” to include:
“if your daughter is dying a painful death and he could easily prevent it, then he won’t.”
But that’s not what the word “love” means.
If a statement is only true when we redefine the words it contains,
then that statement is false.

So if you want to know whether your prophet is a true prophet of an all-knowing, loving god, then see if you can find his advice to boil water before drinking. If he doesn't mention it, then you can be pretty sure he’s a false prophet or God doesn't know everything or God doesn't love humans.

On the other hand, if some pre-19th century text does indeed contain the advice to boil water, then that is not proof that it has divine origin. I could simply be that someone noticed in time of disease that those who only drank tea or boiled water were unscathed. You don't have to be the Flying Spaghetti Monster to notice that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Treat polar bears well, treat humans better

Suppose you find yourself, with a gun, at the edge of a small village, on an island off the north coast of Norway. There you see two young girls playing just outside their school. Then you spot a polar bear heading towards them. You know enough about the bears to recognize their hunting behavior. The girls are in imminent danger. It seems obvious, that you should shoot the bear to save the kids. Most would agree this isn't a tricky moral conundrum.

Now suppose you again have a gun and you're at the edge of a remote village, this time in Afghanistan. Again there are two young girls playing outside a school. You see a Taliban fighter heading towards the girls. Suppose also you have reliable information that that man intends to kill the girls because he objects to the education they are receiving. Again it would seem that the moral thing to do is to kill him, preventing the atrocity he's about to commit.

Let's go back to the polar bear in Norway. There aren't that many polar bears left. They are listed as being "vulnerable" to extinction. They are indeed reasonably intelligent, but not nearly as bright as the average human. With some study we can have much better understanding of polar bears than they will ever have of us.

So suppose it is winter in Norway, the bears are hibernating and we have some time to deal with the possible threat that will come to children in the village once the spring comes and the bears become active again. In this case we absolutely must keep the girls safe while at the same time we don't want to inflict pain or harm on the bears. By understanding bear psychology we can work out how to motivate the bears to keep well away from the village. If they do come in then we can scare them off, we certainly don't need to kill them.

One of the most basic ideas in reformed pastafarian morality is that we should treat polar bears well, but we should treat humans better.

Now lets go back to Afghanistan. Suppose we learn of a plot to kill schools girls, but we have many months notice, as the schools are currently closed for a long winter holiday. We find out that the operative who will carry out the attack is a young illiterate man whom already has 3 sons. He is in debt has has been promised that it will be cleared if he carries out the strike. Again with our superior education and access to information we should be able to have a much better understanding of him, than he has of us. If we kill him, he will become a martyr. His sons will grow to hate us, perpetuating the problem into the next generation.

The pastafarian solution is to absolutely protect the young girls, but it is so much better to try to understand the Taliban and work out how to motivate them not to commit their barbarous acts, rather than kill them. In so many ways the Taliban cannot compete with our sophisticated society. Though killing them is our failure and it is much more tragic than killing polar bears.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Film Protests

We are rather concerned that Pakistan is becoming soft on those who oppose religion. We've seen that someone can freely hold up a placard suggesting that having "no religion is better than Islam". The worrying thing is that the authorities seem to do nothing about it.
On the other hand it has been very pleasing to see the strong vibrant protests by pious Pastafarians against a recent film that insults the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It has been a great opportunity for the faithful to show how civilized we are. It has been pointed out that those who protest can't be angry at a film they haven't seen that actually they're just being obedient to the religious leaders who sent them out. But please see it from our point of view as local Pastafarian Holymen.

When a group of people together recite a prayer, they give the impression that they think the same. But on a question of faith, within a group of people who all seem to belong to the same religion, there will be a range of opinions. Some will be convinced that there is utterly convincing evidence, others will acknowledge to themselves that the evidence is somewhat underwhelming and then there will be those who belong to the Mother Teresa school of theology. She pretended to believe, but privately she was an atheist, ( in a letter not meant for public consumption she wrote "Jesus you are not true.").

So just as with the congregations, also for religious leaders there is a wide range of opinions some very significantly diverging from the official dogma. But religions can survive even if people don't believe in them. The key thing is that no-one admits they don't believe. Disbelievers must remain silent or indeed pretend to have faith and doubters need to feel that they are alone. As religious leaders, we're aware that the house of cards could come crashing down, particularly if people are allowed to be honest about their thoughts.  

When conversion away from the true faith is a crime, it can help to keep people in the fold. Though it is important to note that apostasy is actually not about what you believe or think, but rather about what you say. Lie detector tests are never used in apostasy cases to find out what people really think. If they were, then there would be too many defendants, including many senior Holymen.

For us Pastafarian Holymen, we know that we are just a few witty jokes away from becoming a laughing stock and that scares us. We currently have significant power and influence. Our place in society would collapse if people were allowed to freely debate religious ideas. Can you imagine what a disaster it would be if the major theocracies of the world were to up up being atheistic countries like for example Norway.

We all know that Religions can grow either by presenting ourselves as warm and fuzzy or by use of the sword. Pastafarians in our Pirate regalia we combine the two. Once we have significant power, the only way is down. Dominant religions tend to go through the following phases one after the other:

1: Blasphemy is a capital offense. It's the easy way to win an argument.

2: The executions are stopped but it is still illegal for anyone to disagree with religious leaders of the one true faith and it is absolutely strictly forbidden to laugh at us.We're terrified of humor.

3: Officially there is freedom of speech, but many forms of pressure are put on people to ensure that they never express their criticism. They can think whatever they want, but we tell them what to say. We write the creed, they recite it, obediently professing their faith.

4: Critics of the religion are ignored by the religious leaders. After we've realized that our protests are just drawing attention to those who oppose us.

5: The religion is ignored by society

6: The religion is forgotten. Just ask the Manichaens what it's like. You don't know who they are? Well, that's exactly my point.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shut the Internet down

The Flying Spaghetti Monster has announced that the internet needs to be shut down immediately and not started up again.

As we all know the gift of faith in Pastafarianism is essentially belief in a set of extraordinary claims which (deliberately) lack extraordinary evidence. For faith to blossom it is essential to ensure that children and teenagers are never exposed ideas that oppose the one true (Pastafarian) faith. When the young have access to the internet they are exposed to all sorts of concepts. It makes it almost impossible to control their thoughts. Much evidence sugguest that when people grow up with the internet, most end up without religious faith. This looks set to be a tragedy, particularly in places in the world where faith leaders have significant power.

In the days before the internet, it was reasonably straight forward to protect children from blasphemous thoughts. Television stations wouldn't dare criticise the one true faith. There were indeed some philosophy books such as "A History of Western Philosophy" which promoted atheistic ideas, but fortunately they were long, dull and had been deliberately written in a style that ensured few would understand the simple ideas they contained. So although they appeared on some people's book shelves they were never read.

Contrast that with the modern world where the web is full of satire of religion. We see that things really have changed (for the worse).

For faith to survive it is essential that:
1: children are never exposed to non-pastafarian ideas.
2: those with doubts must keep quiet about them, they need to be encouraged to continue with pastafarian rituals to give the impression that their faith is strong
3: further those who are struggling with their faith must never found out that others are having similar doubts. Each person who is having difficulty believing must be persuaded that they are the only one.

None of this is possible with the internet and so the internet needs to be shut down.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Children teaching Children a Second Language

If you visit Japan and try to talk to thirty year olds in English, the first thing that may surprise you is that most of them understand very little and can speak even less. This is in spite of the fact that English was taught to them as a second language for many years in school.
Sometimes you’ll meet people who can get by in English. However, for the most part, even those who have spent some time abroad during their adult life generally have a very strong accent. They simply never learnt to pronounce English correctly.

Occasionally you’ll come across someone who speaks flawless English. There are two things you can be fairly sure about: (1) that person lived abroad as a child and (2) that person primarily did not learn English from a teacher, but rather from other children.
For many children in Japan it really is impractical for them to move abroad for a few years to learn English. So how about arranging play-dates with native English speaking children? Well, there really aren’t many native English speaking children in Japan, so we need to think of a new solution…

We now have skype and indeed other internet based video conferencing technologies. One of the great things about skype is that once you have your computer with mic and web-cam along with a decent broadband connection there are no more incremental costs.
Suppose we were to carry out the following experiment involving 4 year olds in England and France. At the start the English and French kids don’t share a common language. We have two English children sitting at a booth with a web connection and also two children in France. The children can see each other using skype and we’ve set-up an interactive fun game that they can play. If we let them play like this for one hour a day for a year, we’ll come back and look at their language ability.
Our hypothesis is that with this approach we can achieve a remarkable growth in second language ability for a very modest cost with only a small amount of staff training required. It is not necessary for the teacher based in France to speak English nor for the teacher in England to speak French. The children will be able to teach each other their respective languages though play and interaction over skype.
Our suggestion is that after a successful trial run, this method of teaching should be rolled out in all state-run schools for kids starting at the age of 3.

The skype based interaction between the kids needs to be more fun than forced.
If they get along well, then the same kids can meet up each day (via skype).
Small groups, such as 2 +2 may work better than one on one.
If we observe one session, with 2 English and 2 French kids, we will probably find that one language will become dominant. There may be one French child who dominates the talking and keeps proceedings in French. We will need to think about how to ensure that the French kids learn English (and vice versa. )
So if there is one 2+2 group that (almost) always speaks French, that’s fine, that group can be maintained, but half the time we may need to send those kids into different groups to ensure that the French kids are exposed to English.
To encourage one language over another we can try the following:
(i) The audio-visual interactive game that the kids play will be in one language to encourage use of that language.
(ii) Each child will be a member of two groups, one for their native language and one for their second language. So they will know that consistently when they see A and B ( via skype ) they’ll speak say French, but when they see E and F, they’ll speak English.
(iii) The booths can be colour coded, to build up an association between a colour and a language. That way they’ll know what language they’re expected to speak.
(iv) Suppose we want the kids to speak English, we may find that if we put the two English kids together at one computer and the 2 French kids at two separate computers that may help to encourage the use of English.

After initial trials we may be in a better position to understand how to influence the language that becomes dominant in a session. This could be useful if for example we find that there is a greater demand for kids in Italy to learn English rather than for English kids to learn Italian. We suspect that with some clever tricks one English kid may be able to teach 3 Italians to speak English. So a 3 to 1 ratio would be fine. However, iIf ( as we suspect ) the ratio is even more extreme we may need to get Italian kids with a few months experience of speaking English to teach those who are just starting out.
The initial trials should be carried out in under-privileged. It can provide a more useful proof of concept than if the schools chosen were elitist private schools.

If you're interested in the ideas of children learning from other children, then have a look at this video of a TED talk given by Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Pastafarian Uncertainty Principle

The FSM has given us the Pastafarian Uncertainty principle which states that all economic forecasters are liars or fools or both. Only the FSM knows the future and he’s not telling.

The fools include the modern alchemists and those people who are like the lottery winner who has gotten lucky picking a few numbers in the past and so he thinks he’s a genius.

The liars include those people who know that they can’t predict the future, but they are paid to do so and hence make a very good living, keeping a straight face and always sounding plausible. They are very careful not to keep a track record of how their earlier predictions faired.

To help understand the Pastafarian teaching on financial uncertainty, we start by considering the problem of forecasting the change in stock price between tomorrow’s closing price and a year from now. Today’s stock price is determined using all existing market information. If some new data comes out or we have a new way of analyzing existing data, then that will move the market before tomorrow’s close of trading. The move in price after tomorrow will be driven by new information, which we fundamentally can’t know now.

The same is true for predictions of any freely traded item: from foreign exchange rates to the price of oil. We cannot know what will happen to prices in future. So we do not know what future inflation will be like. Equity prices, FX rates and indeed inflation are all very significant factors that drive the economic growth and they cannot be predicted. So there is no point in trying to predict economic growth.

Just as there is no point trying to pin point exactly where and when a forest fire will start, we don’t know when an economic crash will happen. But we can do the following:
* Ensure that people behave in such a way as to minimize the risk.
* Understand where there is an increased risk.
* Have mechanisms in place that mitigate the effects when they do happen.

People put in a lot of time and effort into making financial forecasts. However they are wasting their time and your money. You are paying for them, either as a tax payer or as a consumer.

When a forecaster makes a statement, it often gets lost in translation. For example I could say to a pregnant woman that I expect her child will have one testicle.
Something may well have been lost in translation. The statistician could come along and say that there is a 50% chance of having a girl with none and a 50% chance of having a boy with two. So the (statistical) expectation is 1 testicle. But that’s not the way the word ‘expect’ is used in standard English, hence the misunderstanding.
So we need to be careful. A central banker could release a statement that he expects economic growth to be 5% next year. He might just forget to mention that he reckons there is a 20% of a 10% contraction in the economy. But the probabilities of both an economic contraction and bubble are included in the ‘expected 5% growth’.

If you want to know for sure that your friendly economist or financial advisor is to be trusted or if he’s in the liar/fool category, then ask him for a prediction. If he gives you one, then it is time to walk out of his office. It is only a trivial detail whether he’s in the liar or fool subcategory. You can respect the man who says he doesn’t know the future.

People have understood and accepted the Pastafarian Uncertainty principle for years. A very valid question is: if the economy is known to be fundamentally unpredictable, then why do institutions embarrass themselves by making forecasts? The answer is the same reason that newspapers soil their pages by publishing horoscopes. The bottom line is that there is a demand for forecasts and indeed astrology. Where there’s a demand there’ll be a supply. When people are investing their money they don’t like the feeling of throwing their life savings into a random number generator, hence they pay for a financial advisor who’ll do what he’s paid to do: make predictions. The difference between the financial advisor and the astrologer are the clothes they wear.

When it comes to determining the exact location and velocity of an electron, Heisenburg has told us that there is some fundamental uncertainty that we can’t overcome. The problem is not that we aren’t clever enough nor that our instruments aren’t good enough. We just can’t violate the Heisenburg Uncertainty principle.

In the same way precise economic forecasting violates the Pastafarian Uncertainty Principle.

Nerdy Appendix:

It is left as a rather simple exercise to the mathematically inclined reader to come up with a short list of assumptions required to prove that a stock price is fundamentally unpredictable. You should make use of the concepts of a ‘sigma-algebra’ and a ‘filtration’.