All posts filed under: Thinking, Hard and Soft

Essay Collection: Thinking, Hard and Soft

Steersmanship requires connected thought. As information technology weaves itself into life, what happens to our sense of time? Can organic activity be digitised? The essays in Thinking, Hard and Soft range from Proust, Homer and Zhuangzi to Cybernetics and AI, all washed down with a healthy dose of wine. Available on Leanpub. Here is what some readers have said about “Thinking, Hard and Soft” so far: “Thought provoking. An example of how mankind can muddle through the opposition and find a way to do the right thing in the end.” Simon Dakin, Business Systems and Information Manager “Very well written… Very few people publishing in LinkedIn can write like this. And that’s probably a large understatement… a rare ability to fuse philosophy, science, technology, history and original thought…” Stephen Cummins, CEO & Founder AppSelekt, CSO Academic Innovations “Beautiful!” Douglas Levin, Professional Sommelier & Wine Writer  

Howlrounds in Open Society (updated election edition)

Image:  Boxer at Rest, Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Updated Election edition: excerpted and updated from Thinking, Hard and Soft Some actions lead to amplified reactions, which are then in turn amplified. A good example of the phenomenon is audio feedback, or howlback, which is when a microphone and a speaker pick up on each other’s ins and outs in a so-called howlround. The result doesn’t have to be ear-piercing. “I feel fine”, released by the Beatles in 1964, starts with a controlled buzz of feedback from a plucked A-string on John Lennon’s acoustic-electric guitar: not bad. But it pales next to “Foxy Lady,” introduced by Jimi Hendrix with a vibrato feeding in on itself: a balanced wildness and a tribute to Johnny Watson’s “Space Guitar”, regarded as the first popular recording featuring guitar feedback. For Lennon, feedback was an attractive add-on to a musical track, a bit of fun. Watson and Hendrix integrated feedback into their music more completely. But few musicians have ever integrated feedback into their art as comprehensively as hedge-fund manager George Soros. Trump …

On Government

Image: Amphora (neck-amphora): Berlin, Staatliche Museen F 1867; Beazley ABV 371, Leagros Group no. 148; Stähler no. 2. Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft Huangdi and Chiyou clashed on the plains of Zhuolu. Huangdi (the ‘Yellow Emperor’), ruled the Huaxia tribes while Chiyou, his nemesis, commanded an alliance of barbarian tribes. Under the cover of heavy fog, Chiyou’s army attacked the Huaxia army and inflicted heavy losses as the Yellow Emperor’s troops got lost. The fog lingered and Chiyou had the advantage. The emperor and his master craftsman retreated for three days and built a chariot. It was equipped with a wooden figure that had one arm extended, pointing southwards. The wooden figure was connected to the wheels of the chariot in a special way so that it always pointed south. When the chariot turned, a self-adjusting mechanism (a modern solution would use differential gears) translated the turn into an equal and opposite movement of the pointer. The reliable arm of the chariot’s wooden statue steered the army of the Chinese nation through the fog. Chiyou was defeated and captured. …

Thinking, Hard and Soft

Image: Roy Batty, as played by Rutger Hauer after the “Tears in Rain” monologue in Blade Runner Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft The 1982 film Blade Runner is set in 2019 and features an eclectic mix of hardware and software. The hardware is spectacular.  There are flying cars and spaceships and almost-perfect robots. Roy Batty, a renegade “replicant”, is a Nexus-6 model artificial human. He is a beautiful specimen, perfectly built, resistant to pain. But he has a software (or hardware?) problem. He is “built not to last”. Replicants are designed to perish after four years: an in-built timer as a fail-safe. So Roy is on a quest to meet his maker. He finds the man who designed his eyes, then a genetic designer who leads him to meet the man responsible for his existence. “What seems to be the problem”, the man inquires. “Death”, says Roy. He wants to be modified, he wants to be saved, but it can’t be done. In his final moments as his clock winds down, Roy launches into …

Tastes of Tomorrow

Image: 19th-century engraving of Goethe’s Faust and Homunculus Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft Part 1: Hume and the Middleman Raise your wine glass! Odorant molecules rise from the liquid and pass through your nasal passage before reaching a patch of neurons with hair-like extensions. A biochemical reaction sends an olfactory signal to the centre of emotion, your brain’s limbic system. That’s just the start. Drink! Your sensory experience deepens. Onion-shaped structures called taste buds containing up to 100 taste receptor cells, again with neuronal properties, pass more information about the wine’s chemical qualities to your brain. Waves of information hit your consciousness as your “brain” processes them. How much of this are you aware of? You struggle to come up with more than a few words: red fruit, stale cardboard, mushrooms on a forest floor and ladybug taint. All that information. All those neurons. And the best that you can do is stand by and take a few notes. It seems a bit disappointing. David Hume was a great theorist of impressions and ideas. According to Hume, impressions are like pictures …

Taking data to heart

Image: Heart and its blood vessels, Leonardo da Vinci Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft More people die of heart-related disease than from any other cause. The World Health Organization estimates that 17.5 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2012, about thirty percent of all global deaths. A cardiovascular disease becomes an acute problem when it leads to a reduction in blood supply to the heart. For example, one of the coronary arteries supplying the heart with blood may be blocked by a blood clot. The part of heart muscle supplied by this artery will die without a blood supply, a process called myocardial infarction. “Heart attack” is the more familiar umbrella term. Twenty years apart, here are two examples of data analysis in the treatment of acute heart disease: a data-based decision tool for patient classification and a “computationally generated biomarker”, which is a risk indicator derived from objectively observable clinical data using advanced data processing. The two examples reveal the progress that has been made and the challenges that lie ahead in using …

Triage 2.0

Image: Wounded arriving at triage station, Suippes, France Excerpted from Thinking, Hard and Soft In healthcare, a triage – from the French verb “trier”, to sift or to sort – is a system to evaluate and categorize patients by the severity of their medical condition to prioritize care. The future of healthcare hinges on new triage technology. Triage was first developed for battlefield medicine by Dominique Jean Larrey, an army surgeon during the Napoleonic wars. In 1792 France was at war with most of Europe and Larrey was a newly minted twenty-six-year-old regimental surgeon-major frustrated by the state of combat casualty care. Surgeons like him were confined to field hospitals located no less than five kilometres from the battlefield. If he was “lucky”, a wounded soldier was able to make his own way to the field hospital or comrades might carry him. Otherwise he’d have to wait for a slow moving cart from the field hospital to haul him in. These carts, called Fourgons, were piled high with bodies and provided the most basic transport. If …