Month: July 2015

Minding the gap

Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft What you say isn’t always what you mean. It is one thing to talk about the probability of an event or about how much you enjoyed your dessert wine. It is another thing to commit to a number consistently. What odds are you willing to accept? How does this wine or stock rate against the others that you evaluated today? Professional wine critics write and rate. The word cloud above represents a selection of the most frequent words in about 8,000 wine notes written by 12 popular wine writers. It gives an impression of what is said. Most of these wine notes also include a score. No matter how many words are in the note, this is what it boils down to. 98 points from Robert Parker can make a wine’s price rocket, 72 points won’t. A wine writer might argue that you can’t really separate a score from its note. The score is justified by the note and vice versa. In an interview, wine critic Neal Martin said: I don’t see …

Wise Words?

Image: Paul Cézanne, The Judgement of Paris Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft Conveying sensory impressions in words is difficult. Émile Peynaud (1912-2004), a bordelais legend among oenologists and wine-writers remarked that “we tasters feel to some extent betrayed by language.” How do writers convey information about colour, sound and taste to readers effectively? In other words: can you tell the difference between a robot and a human stock analyst? Serious interest in wine notes began after the 1976 Judgement of Paris (not this one) pitted French against Californian wines in a legendary blind tasting. Nine judges rated wines on a scale from 1 to 20. Then the organiser of the event, Stephen Spurrier, arrived at the final ranking by “adding the judges marks and dividing this by nine (which I was told later was statistically meaningless)”. Motivated by the flawed nature of this procedure, economists Richard Quandt and Orley Aschenfelter showed how to use elementary statistics to produce a more meaningful ranking. Indeed, a software programme called “Winetaster” developed by Quandt codifies the underlying statistical methods. …

Sleepless in Brussels

Image from: Heinrich Hoffmann, Der Struwwelpeter, 1917 Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft First Europe was said to be sleepwalking towards a Grexit. Then suddenly there was no time to sleep at all. Tsipras, Merkel, Hollande and Juncker looked tired even before the 17 hour marathon of negotiations had started, Merkel went without sleep for 27 hours and Tsipras was “mentally waterboarded” according to an EU official. To what extent did sheer exhaustion force an agreement? Sleep is a necessity. Even the dolphin sleeps with one eye closed, half of its brain showing the even patterns of a brain at rest. We require temporary immobilization in the same way that we require water. Should we be worried when important decisions are made in states of exhaustion? In last weekend’s FT Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, argues that the future belongs to artificial minds, which “will not be confined to the 14 mile layer of water, air and rock in which organic life has evolved at the earth’s surface.” What will a summit of artificial minds look like? Unconstrained by the necessity of …