Do you like cake?
Sure you do, cake is awesome.
Now, imagine you’re on your way to a friend’s party and decide last minute to get a cake.
You stop at a small bakery, go to the counter to pick one out.
You want white and blue frosting. You want it yellow and custard flavored for just the right moistness.
And round, it has to be round (rectangular cakes are an abomination).
So you look at the bakery’s selection, and what do you know? There’s a round one with blue and white frosting, and it’s got custard.
But it’s a white cake.
And all the rest of the cakes are chocolate or lemon.
You start to walk away from the counter.
Although…that white cake is almost exactly what you’re looking for.
And hunting down another bakery will only make you late to the party.
And who knows what the selection will be at that other bakery?
So you go back and get the white cake. It’s not like you’re the only one that’s going to be eating it, right?
Now, let’s take a look at the decision being made here: You need a cake, you have frosting, flavor, and shape in mind. But you also have a time restraint and other people who will be consuming the cake to take into consideration.
Taking all these factors into consideration you made a compromise in some respects in order to provide the greatest good (of cake).
So what does this have to do with computers and how they “think”?
Well, without getting to technical, there are two concepts in programming that are very much like human decision making. They are the logical operators AND and OR.
Simply put, when evaluating whether something is true or false, programmers can use these operators much like you evaluated the cake earlier:
If (cakeFrosting == “White and Blue”) AND (cakeFlavor == “Yellow”) AND (hasCustard == True) AND (cakeShape == “Round”) then
Cake = Perfect;
Cake = LessThanPerfect;
Now, you’ll notice a couple things.
Using AND means that everything has to be exactly right in order for the cake to be, well, perfect. And if it’s deemed “LessThanPerfect”, then you have more evaluations to make. Just like you did earlier, when deciding that the flavor would be okay being white, the code could be altered to:
If (cakeFrosting == “White and Blue) AND (cakeFlavor == “Yellow” OR “White”) AND (hasCustard == True) AND (cakeShape == “Round”) then
Cake = Perfect;
Cake = LessThanPerfect;
But then, would the cake really be perfect then? And you have to take into consideration the time crunch and the other people at the party.
I won’t bore with more code that incorporates all these extra variables, but suffice it to say, we humans make very nuanced decisions everyday about a thousand different things. Oftentimes there are no right answers, or perfect solutions. That’s why we don’t think like computers.
Because our decisions aren’t Binary. Most everything is not a 0 or 1, black or white decision.
So then why have we begun making important decisions, nothing so mundane as the flavor of a cake, but rather the character of people, in such a binary fashion?
In other words:
If(politics == “Liberal”) AND (ProLife == True) AND (GunControl == True) AND (ImWithHer == True) AND (AmnestyForImmigrants == False) then
Person = myFriend
Person = Evil
You see the danger of Binary Thinking? Now, here I’ve picked on someone who’s left-leaning and just happens to think that giving amnesty to illegal immigrants isn’t a good idea (for which they’ll be ostracized by other people whom they are otherwise very likeminded). But this works on right-leaning conservatives who see value in strengthening gun control laws, and a thousand other combinations of political positions.
Understand that in order to have free speech you agree with, You must also allow for free speech you don’t.
So why have be begun thinking this way? Why have be begun to regress into binary thought while computers, it seems, will eventually make the leap to more human-level thinking?
Because many people have bought into the notion of absolutes. “If you’re not with me, you’re against me,” thinking. Although it’s even more rigid than that. It’s actually, “If you don’t think exactly as I do, you’re against me.”
Even worse, though, is the notion that those who don’t think exactly like us, are evil, and so any recourse to stop them is justifiable. Because anything we do in the process of stopping evil is a good thing, right?
Think I’m overstating this? How many stories about drinks and punches being thrown, threats of bodily harm, threats against someone’s children need to be told before we pull back the reins on this kind of thinking?
How many comparisons to Hitler have you heard lately? How quickly do we forget about the actual atrocities that the Nazis committed that we feel comfortable mentioning them in the same breath as persons whose politics we don’t agree with. I’d suggest a trip to the Holocaust Museum, to see the full extent of the paltry nature of those comparisons.
Dissenting opinions and disagreement are actually a welcome foundation to Free Speech. It actually grows our freedoms, expands our scope of thought. But disagreeing with someone and then insisting they not be given a voice, especially by forceful means isn’t dissention.
And it doesn’t speak very well of your opinion if it can’t stand up to someone speaking out against it.
Case in point. There are still White Nationalists in America. They are few, and they are ignorant. But they do exists. I don’t associate them with any political party, and generally don’t think about them in my day-to-day life.
However, I do support their right to free speech. Their hateful, backwards, intolerant speech only exemplifies the extent of their delusional thinking, but it is speech, nonetheless, that is protected by our First Amendment.
And I support it because although I may understand the language of computers, I don’t and will never think like a computer.
I understand that in order to have free speech that I agree with, I must also allow for free speech that I don’t.
If we begin to cut off our thoughts because they didn’t fit with some preconceived set of parameters that they must fall under, we might as well be robots, human automatons.
But I love the nuanced thoughts that human’s have too much to think that way. It’s what has given us literature and art and architecture and a deeper understanding of mathematics and the universe.
Something worth pondering over some coffee.
And maybe a slice of cake.