Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Transcript - Spoil Sports of Prediction

Class: Informatics, Computing, and the Future
Instructor: Dan Berleant
Transcriber: Brooke Yu
Date: Thursday, February 21, 2013

Male Student:  I was wondering where we could find the 40 steps for TRIZ

Professor:  You mean more detail? 

Male Student:  Just where it's at. 

Professor:  Oh.  Let's see if it's where I expect it to be.  Okay.  So here's TRIZ.  It's way at the back here. 

Male Student:  Okay, cool. 

Male Student:  So is that the only site for it? 

Professor:  This?  Let's try to Google it.  Oh man, I should have lectured from this.  Okay I guess that's for the homework, right?  Anyone else have any questions?  Okay.  So just checking the syllabus for a moment, we're down here- last time we saw that video.  Today, we're going to talk about another topic- I call it spoil sports of the prediction game.  There's a famous quote that it's difficult to predict the future.  That's supposed to be attributed to a famous physicist. 

So anyway, there's anumber of reasons why it's hard to predict the future.  But before I start, I wanted to tell you about the SUPER program this summer.  It's a program for getting students at the sophomore and junior level to find out about research through a summer internship.  This is on the website, but there's another message I want to show you. 

I've been asked to help publicize this to my students it's a paid summer research opportunity.  There's no minimum GPA, but they're hoping for a 3.22 or better.  But if we don't get enough applicants, then you might have a chance if it's below that. 

There's a deadline, march 15th.  After that, if there's still spaces, we'll just keep taking applications for them.  But after march 15t, people will be chosen.  There's an info session and pizza lunch on the 26th at 12:15 in room 203. 

So I think 203 is the room on the corner down there.  So there you go.  Anyone have any questions about it or anything?  I was involved with the committee that helped put it together.  I might know a few things. 

They had faculty proposed research projects that they wanted students to help with, so some lucky professors will get students to do them and the college pays the internship salary or stipend. 

Here's the official website or webpage for it.  [On board.]   

Super stands for [On board.]  

It's not just research.  You get to hear people talk about things like entrepreneurship.  I hear a lot about how it's so important to expose students to concepts of how start-ups happen and how they can start their own businesses because they think it's good for the economy of the state.  A lot of times students can do those.  It's harder when you get older and you have a family or something and you need sort of a more regular income.  

Okay, so it's up to 10 students.  They can come from anywhere in the country, but probably most of them will be from UALR.  There's a salary here- $1300 a month.  Alright.  So then let's talk about why it's so hard to predict the future. 

So there's several reasons why it's hard to predict the future, and I all them spoil sports.  These are sort of basic principles that prevent us from doing a perfect job of predicting the future.  So we can kind of state it in technical terms as "can one predict the time evolution of a System?"  That is can one predict how a system- a part of the world, right, changes over time? 

Here are some examples of systems where you'd like to predict the system evolution.  Weather.  They'd like to be able to predict the windspeed and simulate how the weather is going to be tomorrow or next week. 
In fact, the weather service uses giant computers to do that, and the computers let us predict weather forecasts as far as two weeks ahead, and they're not perfect, but a lot of times they're right. 

When I was your age, it didn't go two weeks.  It would only go out a few days, but it certainly wasn't as far into the future as it is now.  So weather is a very important thing to be able to predict.  Why is it so important to predict the weather? 

I mean, it's nice to now you need to carry an umbrella, but that's not why the government puts so much money it in. 

Male Student:  Agriculture. 

Professor:  Right!  There's billions of dollars of food dependent upon farmers being able to plan their activities based on what the weather is going to be.   Anything else about the weather and why it's important to predict?  I don't know if you sort of checked into the news when there's a major hurricane.   They show paths where the hurricane is predicted to go several days in advance.  The further into the future they go the less certain it becomes. 

So here's the cone, and they'll show how it moves.  Today it's here, tomorrow it may move here, then the next day like that.  They show these cones as you go one day at a time into the future, and the uncertainty becomes greater and greater, so the cone gets wider and wider. 

They put a lot of money into this- it's heavy computer simulation because people really care where the hurricane's going to go so people can prepare.  Of course, it won't solve all the problems, but they're a little lease destructive if we know where they'll be ahead of time

So weather is pretty important.  Another example of this time prediction is the game of pool.   I don't know if you've taken physics, but one of the first physics course is called mechanics, which is about how moving bodies work in the universe.  Basically objects and how they interact. 

A pool table is a good example of a physically clean idealized environment where you have perfect spheres and a super flat table.  If you knew how the balls were rolling, you should be able to predict where they're going to be in the future. 

So people who play pool are doing a lot of physics in their head.   I mentioned pool because it's an idealized system.  It's ideal and predictable.  But it's not perfect.  Even if you could predict where the ball would go, you can't predict exactly what's going to happen. 

So weather and pool are quite different systems, and here's another.   Family relationships are things people would like to predict.  If you treat your kids a certain way will they grow up to be fine citizens?  People think about those kinds of things. 

And you know how bad people are at it, because there's lots of people who are upset with their families.  But people try- they want to predict. "if I do something today, how will that affect the family in the future?"  Another example is Brownian motion.  Anyone know what that is? 

No?  They didn't tell you about it in physics?  Just a few have taken it. 

Brownian motion- there's a guy named brown, and he discovered that if you look at a drop of water on a microscope slide, there's a little speck of dust in the water, and you look at it under the microscope.  You can see the dust bouncing around.  Suddenly it looks as though something hit it from this side because it jumps from one side to the other. 

Water molecules are hitting the speck of dust all the time in all directions, and every now and then the water molecules will it hit all at once on the right side and it'll bounce to the left.  Different numbers of water molecules are making it bounce around.  You can see the dust move around.  It looks like it's being jostled, and it is by water molecules.   You can imagine Brown was quite intrigued by this and the effect was named after him. 

Well, clearly, you can't really tell where the speck of dust is go to be in another minute because you don't know purely by chance which side the water molecules are going to accidentally hit it more on, right?  You know it's going to jump around, so you don't know where it's going to be and it's impossible to simulate. 

Statistically, you could say if it gets it on the right, it'll get hit on the left, so it should basically stay in the same place.  You can't make an exact prediction though. 

There's something similar to Brownian motion.  I remember this from elementary school- they showed slides to us about sound and I remember they showed somebody in a sound proof room, and after you stay in a sound proof room your ears get really sensitive and you can hear really quiet sounds.  If your hearing is good and you let yourself adapt to the low noise well, you can actually hear air molecules hitting your ear drums and it sounds like static. 

They even cranked up the microphone so you could hear the static.  But it's the same way.  Air will make static in the microphone. 

Okay, so clearly if static is totally random you can't predict when there will be a sound from it because it's random. 

So these are all pretty different, but they're all examples of a system evolving through time where, you know, you'd like to be able to predict it, and maybe to some degree you can, but in a lot of ways you can't.  You can't predict perfectly in any of these things [On board.]  

Here's yet another example- technology.  Technology about such and such.  Like, what are cars going to be like in ten years?  We can make guesses and we might be right, but we might not be right.  It's impossible to predict.  If we go on, why is it so hard to predict? 

Well, here's a scenario of how a prediction can go wrong in everyday life.  Maybe you've had a day where everything goes wrong. 

[Teacher reading: [On board.]  

It's really hard to get it right, and it's impossible to get it right with any certainty. 

Okay.  Well, why is it so hard to predict the future?  Well, there's seven reasons I've identified why you can't predict the future. 

Here's the first- it's called the observer effect. 

Now, the problem that the observer effect is all about is it relates to- if you want to know the future, you have to know the present because you extrapolate.  Given the pool table is laid out in a certain way and the ball is moving in a certain way, then you can make a prediction.  You look at the pool table and you see where the balls are.  You observe. 

You have to observe the present to predict the future.  The problem is observing something changes it.  And that's called the observer effect. 

So the observer effects says that if you look at something, you change it.  That makes it hard to predict the future.  Every time you look at the pool table, you change it.  Now, your eyes looking at the pool table doesn't make much of a difference. 

But in other cases, it's a huge difference. 

It's a principle that holds that the act of finding out or observing where things are now changes those things. 

Okay?  So you can't figure out where things are because if you observe where they are, you've changed them in some small way, or in some cases in a large way.  To put it in more technical terms, if you wanted this in different terms, then you've perturbed the system. 

So here's some examples.  In physics, okay, the observe effect is most noticeable for tiny things.  We talk about the water molecules, but you might think "all I have to do is use a really powerful microscope and really bright light and I will be able to see the water molecules.  Then if I can figure out where the molecules are and how fast they are moving I can predict where they're going to Hit."  But if you use such a bright light source, every time a light beam would interact with a water molecule so you could see it, it would change the water molecule and make it go into a different direction

The photons would make it change.  Okay?  Indeed, any time you look at something with light, light pushes on it. 

Now if it's a pool table, a little light won't affect the pool balls much, but if it's tiny things, then light will push on it significantly. 

So in principle, the observe effect applies anywhere.  In practice, normally in physics it applies to small objects.  But light pushes. 

Here's another example.  Are any of you studying electrical engineering?  I'll tell you anyway.  Say you put a meter in here to read the dial and it says it's 120 volts like it should be. 

Well, in order for it to do that, it's got to have electricity leak out from the socket through the measuring device.  That circulation of electricity changes the properties of the wall a little bit.  So when you measure something in an electric circuit, you're changing the circuit.  It wouldn't have a big effect here, but if you measured voltages in your computer, there are places where you will definitely change the property of the circuit because you're pulling electricity out of them

Here's another thing.  If you asked someone about themselves, it'll change them in some way.  Like asking someone about themselves is like shining a light on a speck of dust.  You're observing.  You're trying to sense something, but that process is changing something at the same time.  They'll think about it and then they'll be a different person before when you asked. 

I was looking on the web for interesting things about the observer effect.  This person has a website about it.  Her name is Kelly Neil.  She seems to be a singer, but there's another Kelly Neill at Harding university.  They're different though.  They both sing though.  Let's see if we can go to this website. 

Hmm.  Let's try this. 

So this is her and she's got a whole bunch of videos.  She likes quantum physics.  Oh, the is the guy- Bohr, who said that it's difficult to predict, especially the future. 

She has tons and tons of videos.  Some of these were kicked off youtube, I seem to recall.  So these links are not all to youtube.  But let's look at one or two of them. 

Here's one she narrated.  The title of the video is [On board.]   Let's look at the no ad version of it. 


Woman: imagine a universe where time moves forwards and backwards.  Where you can be in two places at the same time.  Where simply looking at something changes everything.  Imagine a universe where you create the reality you experience.  Imagine you're there in that strange universe, because in fact, you are.  Welcome to the observer effect. 

If you want to see fear in a quantum physicists, eyes, just mention the measurement problem.  An atom is spread out all over the place until a conscious observer decides to look at it.  So the act of measurement creates the entire universe. 

[Can't hear/can't understand.] 

I said there was an analogy between perception and relativity. 

What is real depends on how I look at it.  We can see this in experiment. 

We call it measurement theory.  It's about the inseparatbility of the observer from the observed. 

Copenhagen is where Bohr was born, and he was flabbergasted by this recognition that everything was probabilities flowing everywhere until observers observes

This means that everything we know about the world dissolves.  There's no locality. 

The meaning of quantum phsyics is really in terms of giving us a view of how consciousness is the ground of our being.  It allows us to see directly that we can make sense of the world only if we base the world on consciousness. 

There's something we can do in our lives- literally influence the physical reality of our world, and that changes everything. 

I think if we keep quantum physics simple for the lay person, its effects are more noticeable. 

Everything starts from inside and then goes outside.  So you're not pulling things from outside.  You are really putting things outside from inside. 

It's very easy. 

Professor:  Okay, so that little clip kind of gives us a sense of the wonder about it. 
Here's a slightly more detailed explanation.  It has an do.  So I'm just going to turn the volume of for the ad.  So you'll just have to live through a sound free ad. 


Throughout history, we have come to understand the laws of the universe.  These laws have been studied by all governments and religions.  One of these laws is the observer effect.  In science, the observer effect refers to changes the observer has on something being observed. 

If something has not been observed, it's in a state of super position.  This notion about the nature of reality itself is not new.  It's thousands of years old. 

In Hinduism, a vishnu creates the illusion that the world is real.  The universe and everything in it is a great consciousness of a dream. 

The great sage lao Tsu compares this to a journey.  Through symbolic interpretation, he said everything is connected- the Dao. 

Most recently, people have embraced what is called the law of attraction.  It addresses the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and its beholder is its creator. 

So we have come full circle.  From religious ideas, to newtonian theory, then back to reality.  Reality is observation, and observation equals reality.  The dreamer is indeed the dream. 

Professor:  Ah, sorry about that.  I like the photography in these videos.  Even if you get behind all these different perspectives, what is the observer effect?  What does it say?  Anybody?

Male Student:  The atom only exists when you observe it. 

Professor:  Well, that's one thing.  Another thing it says that if you observe something, you change it from what it was before. 

So going with this theme of cool videos about the observer effect.  This is a star trek trailer. 


They are subjects in an alien experiment.  .....

Professor:  Let me change it a little bit. 

On an all new star trek enterprise.  They're subjects in an alien experiment.  They can't begin to understand.  It will take them to the edge of death and beyond.  All new star trek enterprise. 

Professor:  Alright.  Let's see.  I have so many windows open I can't keep them straight. 

There's just a few seconds of this one. 


You can see in all the footage we're going to show that it makes a big impact. 

People that pretty much sums up the observer effect, or one major aspect of it . 

Professor:  Okay.  So you know I like to have a little class participation.  Let's think of a couple of examples of observer effects.  Then we'll make a list on the board.  So I'll give you a minute

Professor:  Okay, so what do you think?  Any examples?

Male Student:  If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? 

Professor:  Haha, okay.  Alright, any other examples?  One more?  Anybody? 

Male Student:  If your phone lights up and you don't see it light up does it light up? 

Professor:  I mean, it emitted photons from the screen, but is it light if there's no one to see it?  Like, is it sound if no one hears it?  Maybe sound is a psychological phenomenon.  

Same way with the scree lighting up. 

Female Student:  I found this one.  It says checking the pressure of a tire without letting any air out. 

Professor:  Okay, that's interesting.  You can't check the pressure without letting some air out.  They let a little bit of air into the gauge.  Okay?  And if it uses the air in the tire, that reduces, the pressure, right?  Good example. 

Any others?  That's a pretty good example you got that from a website? 

Female Student:  Yeah, I just googled it. 

Professor:  That's a good example.  How about understanding the future- you know, we talk about cars, presidents, etc. does the observer effect say anything about the future of things like cars? 

Or the future of computers? 

Male Student:  If you as an observer dies, does the future happen? 

Professor:  Okay, there are physicists who think time works like that.  Suppose time instead of going forward it goes like that, you'd never know it.  It's not something you'd be conscious of. 

Okay, what about... supposing someone did a delphi method approach to see when cars are going to fly, and the experts give us a year and it's published.  Will that affect when cars will fly? 

If there's enough publicity, then people will start demanding flying cars.  Someone might say "hey, let's build them!"  And maybe the government would provide funding and we'd get flying cars because people asked the question.  So predicting when cars will fly is making an observation of the future.  Then people think about it, and it might make it happen sooner. 

Computers have something called Moore's law what does it say?

Male Student:  Every 18 months technology doubles. 

Professor:  Okay, so people think it doubles 18 months to 2 years.  There are people who say that one of the reasons this keeps going at that rate is because people expect it to.  We've observed this exponential curve for a number of transistors on a chip.  So we think "well, because we've observed this, we expect it will be here next year" and then companies that manufacture chips will think "if we don't get here in 18 months or 2 years, then we'll lose market share because another company will and they'll put more money into It" and it's thought by some that that's why it keeps going like that.  Companies sort of make it happen because they think that if they don't, someone else will make it happen and they'll lose money

So that's an example of the observer effect whereby observing we make the trend line continue.  We don't know.  If we hadn't observed this, would it continue?  I don't know.  But people do think about things like this in the industry.  They think they have to keep following the curve or someone else will win. 

So it's certainly possible that people's expectations about cars and computers are helping drive the progress.  Observation drives the future. 

Another example is education.  There's a lot of buzz in higher education about how things will go towards online distance education.  If you have an online course, you could have 100,000 people in the course.  And a lot of that buzz is causing companies to spring up to try to make it happen.  If there was no buzz, the companies probably wouldn't see a market for it. 

So I don't know where this education thing is going to go, but people at UALR are worried that if places like Stanford provide courses that teach a ton of people at once, they won't go here. 

Male Student:  What about books?  Like when will they become obsolete?  Things like that. 

Professor:  Yeah, really.  We have a nice library on campus. 

Male Student:  I've been 4 times since I've been at this school, but never to get a book. 

Male Student:  I went and got a book there one time.  I didn't actually read it. 

Professor:  Haha, it's really strange, you know, because when I was young, libraries were a big thing.  But yeah, I mean, heck, if you want to read a book you can look at it on Amazon.  How about the role of news sources in controlling or determining or affecting elections?  Surely the news covering affects things, right? 

Here's a good example.   Suppose you have some naughty children.  And if you watch them, they won't be as naughty because they're being watched.  Or maybe they'll act even worse because they're being observed.  You observe something and it changes what it does.  Not just kids, but you know, your friends or your parents or whatever.  By being there and seeing them, they're going to behave differently than if they were alone. 

I mean, if someone's watching you, you're not going to pick your nose or something. 

And you can just think about yourself.  So if people are watching and you're in public, you'll behave differently.  Can anyone think of anything from the last lecture that might relate to this? 

Male Student:  As far as what we want to do with life?  He said don't change your dreams but change your path and how you get there. 

Professor:  He said something like that.  You can't change the cards you're dealt, but you can change the way you play your hand.  I think that's what you were referring to. 

He also said- I don't know if you remember- he was talking about setting up teams to do those project.  He had this graph with all those bars.  How many people remember that graph? 

It was something like easiness to work with as rated by several teams. 

So each person, you know, student 1, 2, etc.  And, you know, why did he show this?  He said something like... he showed this feedback and said it's hard to ignore when it's in a graph like this, but some still manage. 

He wanted to get students to observe their actual reviews so they would become better team players in the future.  There was another example. 

Oh, he was talking about criticism.  He said the ones who criticize you love you.  Any other recollections of the last lecture? 

Those are some of the things I remembered.  We mentioned a few of these.  If you watch kids, they act differently, as do adults.  Remember we talked about [On board.] 

I showed how big the human brain was, and I brought up the social competition theory.  In groups of people, trying to, you know, gain within their group or get to the top of the group- there's a theory that that competition within the group is what caused humans to become as intelligent as we are, because people are competing with each other, and the smartest ones could get the most food.  That means people are watching each other, changing their behavior, and trying to jockey for position

We would still look like monkeys or something if not.  Here's some other examples.  Have you looked at the back of your head using two mirror-is it makes you want to move your head around.  

If you shine a light beam through dusty air in a dark room.  Like if there's sun coming through a window.  Or if you have a flashlight or a laser pointer on a misty night- you can see the little particles of water in the air. 

When the light hits those particles of water, it pushes them a bit.  I don't know if it pushes them enough to change what you see, but it does push them.  I know you can buy devices where if you shine a light on it the globe starts spinning from the light. 

What if you watch people play pool?  Will that change how they play? 

Male Student:  You're observing their strategy. 

Male Student:  Just the pressure of people watching you would change it too.  Just like playing a sport.  If there's a big crowd you might get nervous. 

Professor:  Right.  It's not just light.  People watching the players makes the players play differently.  Other examples?  How about measuring the weather for weather forecasting?  The government has huge computers to simulate things, but they have data that they have to put in that they get from measurement.  It's put into the computers.  Do you think that process of measuring those weather conditions is going to affect the weather?

 No?  Okay.  I would say over the course of a 2 week forecast, you're right.  I don't think measuring the wind speed would change it.  Has anyone seen the butterfly effect?  It's pretty old.  I like it. 

So did you pick up on what they're referring to by the world the butterfly effect? 


There's a phenomenon and it refers specifically to weather.  The way it goes is if a butterfly is flapping its wings, it will cause the wind to be a little differently, and over many years, it'll affect hurricanes.  There's reasons to believe that the weather is like that.  You can't control where the hurricane will go like that, but the weather systems are so sensitive to little things like that that these random fluctuations like a butterfly will cause a divergence over time of weather patterns so if you wait a few years, it actually does make a difference- completely unpredictable, but they found weather is very sensitive like that

Other examples of the observer effect- they're always talking about public confidence in the economy.  That's one example.  If people are afraid and they think the economy won't be doing well, they'll stop spending money.  So where does that fear come from?  News reports and the government.  So how people think affects how other people think, and it ultimately affects the economy.  The economy is not something that happens independently of how people are thinking about it.  That's why the government is so concerned with everyone having confidence. 

The economy will do better if people have confidence in it.  It's completely unrelated to the flow of dollars or products.  Specifically, it's how people think about it. 

Well, wouldn't it be nice if you could control the observer effect?  Think that's possible? 

I mean, it's certainly true that some things are more susceptible to the observer effect than others.  Shining a light on a pool table won't make much of a difference.  But watching other people will change how other people behave in a significant way.  So some times the observer effect is a major effect, and sometimes it's minor. 

But you know, maybe if you could make the effect small enough then you could maybe ignore it.  You know, yes the observations make a difference, but it's not much of a difference.  Maybe we can predict well enough to not have to worry about the observer effect.  Here's one way to approach it. 

Suppose you knew the 6th dimensional position and velocity of everything in the universe- every atom and molecule.  Then you could predict the future, right?  If you know the position of a particle and how fast it's going and in what direction, then you pretty much know everything about the particle you need to now. 

Think of atoms as being pool balls on a table.  If you know the speed, direction, location of all of them, you'll know how the'll bounce off each other.  That's how it is in air.  The molecules bounce off each other.  And that's what causes air pressure.  So when I say 6D, it's because each particle has a 3D position, then it has speed, which requires 3 more dimensions to describe.  And with those 6 numbers, you can describe exactly how this billiard ball or a molecule is moving.  

So if we knew that, we could just crunch them in a giant computer to tell the future.  The problem is to figure out those things would require us to observe them, which would change them. 

Even if we could solve the observer problem, there's still the uncertainty principle.  We'll talk about that next time.  So there's the observer effect and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.  Say you can control those though.  Then you have spoils sport number 3 which is quantum tunneling.  In those videos we saw earlier, Kelly Neill was talking about quantum physics because it's so weird. 

Quantum tunneling is another spoils sport of prediction.  You can't predict because of it.  But it's a small effect.  It doesn't do much in real life.  So maybe we can control for that too.  That brings us to number 4, which is the butterfly effect

I talked about that.  The butterfly effect says that small changes can cause the path of the future to diverge more and more.  The more you go into the future, the more the paths diverge. 

[Teacher reading: [On board.]  

But let's suppose we could control the butterfly effect.  That brings us to number 5.  External perturbations, referring to the fact that no matter what system we're observing, there are things outside of the system affecting it and making changes.  There's little drafts in the room that send puffs of air that affect the pool balls.  Those are the external perturbations. 

But suppose you could control for those.  That brings us to number 6, which is exisentialist angst.  Even if you could control those things, who cares?  Why does it really matter?  I told you it was a downer.  But suppose you convince yourself it does matter. 

We're at number 7.  I don't know why I had so much to say about why you should care.  I guess because I think about it sometimes.  So number 7 is the care horizon. 

Later I'll show you an analysis about how the value of the future is so small that you shouldn't care. 

You may not believe me, but it's fun to think about.  Okay?  So 7 spoil sports of the prediction game.  We'll talk about more next time 

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