Brian Christian again. I have written about him and his book The Most Human Human, where he discussed the Alan Turing challenge to make a computer program that can act so human in what it types that judges will mistake the statements made as being from a human. Christian has a new book, co-written with Tom Griffiths called "Algorithms to Live By".
If you learned to use a particular layout out with pencil and paper to do addition or long division, you learned an algorithm, a recipe, a formal procedure or method of solving a problem.
The first algorithm in the book is the secretary problem or the prince problem. A boss hiring a secretary or a princess choosing a prince worries about when to stop interviewing and choose a person. Stop too soon and you miss a great choice. But when is too soon? This is the subject of optimal stopping.
My first grad class was basic statistics. I was charmed by what seemed magical. A little adding and division, some squaring and subtracting and bingo! The truth emerged from numbers! Later, I decided I had invested my enthusiasm too soon. Numbers, yes. Insight, yes. But magic - definitely not. So, I am quite doubtful that I will employ more numbers to decide what to do. I do buy the idea that understanding the algorithms used in computing and operations research and computer science may give me some new insights into my own thinking.
Every day I search among possibilities for the blog topic. Every time we finish a book I am reading aloud or a tv series we have been watching, it is time for a new search. Each new search is first a survey of candidates for selection and then a choice among them. You know, like a US presidential election. Similarly, what's for dinner? Think of a set of candidates and make a choice.
Just as with statistical analysis, there are explicit or implicit assumptions made in setting up a hiring or a princess/prince engagement that matter a great deal. Alter the assumptions or procedures of the time frame or many other variables and you alter the whole operation in a fundamental way. Can the boss go back and select someone he initially passed over? Is the princess willing to become part of a harem? Is she interested in marrying a prince who is dying? Does her choice have to have a large amount of wealth? Life is tricky but with enough machines and enough experimentation and enough thinking and thinking, maybe we will greatly improve our choosing.