Saturday assorted links

1. Obstacles to self-driving cars.

2. Paul Bloom is against empathy.

3. Why your flight was cancelled.

4. The Google drone program.

5. Is IT spending going down in real terms?

6. Publication bias in the social sciences.

7. Are these the most boring or the most interesting people in the UK?  “But these things become detached from what it’s OK to have curiosity about.”  I thought this was a truly excellent piece.  And here is the SneezeCount website.  Read this too, and this.  After those, you don’t need to look at anything else on the internet today.


I'm against empathy too. I much preferred it when it was called sympathy.

Me too. Empathy is psychobabble, or bullshit, for sympathy. (Frankly, I preferred bullshit when it was called horseshit.)

But they're two different things, so it probably matters that empathy is now in vogue and sympathy out.

One you're next to someone and you "get" him and operate with him or for him. The other, you're inside his skin. Which they sell as good, but which is actually pretty creepy. And a lie. When we think we actually feel what someone else is feeling, we're super likely to be wrong and so operating in our own self-interest while convincing ourselves we're being all good guy.

My eight year old just told me the other day, "Mom, people aren't always thinking what you think they're thinking." It was a well-deserved dressing down.

6. So, the social sciences are on a par with pharmaceutical company testing for regulatory approval?

The advance of civilization simply won't continue without self-driving cars.

1. I don't think Google has made a self driving car. Judging from that article on what their cars can't do they've created a computer simulation of my Grandpa.

I'd put up with Grandpa-style driving if I could get work done during the commute. And I could have more than one drink when I go out.

Long run, you've got 360 degree vision, sensors that work outside visible light, and a computer that is never distracted or testosterone-addled. How is this not better than hairless monkeys working clunky controls? Sure, humans have judgment, and if you drive you know that judgment is often terrible.

Your half blind grandma will recognize the frantically waving cop in her slow drive down the street and wave back as she keeps at her steady slow speed into the sink hole, while the google car will simply see a person and slow down and slowly drive into the sinkhole.

But perhaps google's illustrators will come up with google animations that go with different conditions on the road to flash on flat screens on the side of the car between the ads, so the cop will get a laugh as the google car fails to stop.

I can think of, oh maybe 20 different solutions to this "cop by the side of the road" issue in about 5 mins. So I am sure this can get solved. That is the nice thing about automation, the problem only needs to be solved once. A solution can then be refined and optimized over time.

Another way of looking at this is to say what they have achieved just in the last 5 years on this as computers have improved. Does anyone seriously think that they can't improve performance by another order of magnitude or so over the next 20 years. Its really a question of whether mass adaption of driverless cars are 5 years away or 20 in my view.

Cop can hit a switch on his lapelle that sends a warning to all cars.

Better yet, robot cop.

By the way, whatever happened to the learning expert systems we were promised?

I think self driving cars may be first adopted in high driving safety cultures that also have high wages. Here in Australia we've had in hammered into us that we're not very smart behind the wheel. Actual safety campaign slogan, "If you drink and drive you're a bloody idiot." So provided their safety record was clearly better than that of humans, we'd probably accept some limitations in their abilities. They would be differently abled, but superior. Of course, we would expect who ever made them to improve on any weaknesses they demonstrate.

Long-haul trucking in the western part of the country (possibly excluding California). The east-west interstate highways function largely as poorly-designed trains. Putting them under control of some reasonable software would make life easier for all the non-truckers using those roads.

Looking it up I see truck drivers apparently make about $50,000 a year in the United States, which is more than I expected. (Though I don't know what sort of hours they put in.) Given that a robot rig can drive almost continuously and will save money on fuel, wear and tear, and insurance; even if it costs half a million dollars more than a standard truck autonomous driving will probably be a bargain for trucking companies. The change over will probably happen very quickly.

I bet there are a whole bunch of people at BEA that would be glad to talk to you about how they derive real capital spending data and what they consider the drawbacks of the approach they are using.

#7: Answer: The most boring.

2. Bloom uses the term empathy as synonymous with sympathy: "The word “empathy” is used in many ways, but here I am adopting its most common meaning, which corresponds to what eighteenth-century philosophers such as Adam Smith called “sympathy.” It refers to the process of experiencing the world as others do, or at least as you think they do. To empathize with someone is to put yourself in her shoes, to feel her pain." His is a very good essay and I recommend it. I use the term differently. I'm a lawyer and I try to put myself in my adversary's shoes, to see things as she does, not for sympathy, but to help me determine what will motivate her as I negotiate the best result for my client. Bloom doesn't care for empathy, as he uses the term, because it suggests motivation that is too focused on the individual and not the whole: that which may be best for a particular individual for whom we have sympathy may not be what's best for the whole. Needless to say, Bloom isn't impressed with Obama's enthusiasm for empathy. Reading Bloom's essay reminded me of Reagan, who was very good at expressing sympathy for the individual in his anecdotes but terrible at translating the suffering of that individual to the circumstances of millions similarly situated. Would Bloom approve of Reagan's version of empathy?

You use the psychopath version of empathy.

I'm not kidding. In case you were wondering.

Psychopaths tend to describe themselves as having advantage and maybe they do because emotional empathy acts as a regulator.

It seems like Google is making a defensive move against Amazon's technology. Sort of like the Cold War, when a new development in the U.S. or the Soviet Union would provoke the other to embark on similar research, just in case there was something important there. Often, the response would result in better technology than the original. That happened in image intensifiers. The Soviets were using three-stage tubes, with 10X light amplification at each stage for a total of 1000X. The U.S. responded with the microchannel plate, which delivered 10,000X amplification in a single stage.

I look forward to the low altitude dog fights.

3. Outstanding article. The airlines don't want to cancel flights any more than restaurants want to throw your dinner away. As Louis C.K. says, remember when you're complaining about your flight that you're *sitting in a chair in the sky*. My ancestors died, or barely survived, making trips I make weekly while surfing the web, catching up on my work, or reading a novel.

Sure they don't want to cancel flights, but they're operating a fragile just-in-time system that breaks whenever a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil. The combination of profit-maximization and customer indifference to any inputs other than price has led us to this. Notwithstanding the unarguable miracle of flight, it seems reasonable to be pissed off about the failures of this fragility despite the inability to identify a particular bad actor.

To be "pissed off about the failures of this fragility" is a real first world problem.

Normally I like joking about first world problems. But seriously, the first world got to be first in part by not putting up with [email protected] like federally subsidized and supported corporations delivering sub-par products and services just because they can.

But don't worry., the first world now whines and conforms rather than getting pissed off and changing things, so we'll be third soon enough!

Larry Siegel: "As Louis C.K. says, remember when you’re complaining about your flight that you’re *sitting in a chair in the sky*."

And yet, as recently as a decade and a half ago, the airlines nevertheless managed this without making the experience as physically uncomfortable as possible.

The airlines deserve no defense. They've got a captive market, they know it, and they exploit it in order to provide lousier and lousier service year after year. It's a race to the bottom.

What's needed in air travel, among other things, is more competition. Lots more.

#2, very beginning of article: "This reaction [to learning that Bloom is against empathy] surprised me at first..."


That is pretty funny eh?

Most assume that others see the world as I/you do, but they don't. Most assume that others have the same goals as I/you do, but they don't. Empathy for me is seeing the world as others do, not for the purpose of manipulation but consummation, consummation of the transaction I am negotiating for a client, or consummation of an armistice the diplomat is negotiating for his country. Bloom doesn't get it, for his essay, in his criticism of Obama's comments about empathy, reveals that he doesn't even understand our president, because Bloom lacks empathy.

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