I took my daughter’s to the city twice this weekend. In part it was to celebrate (or mourn) the end of the school holidays – ironically, I have been back for two weeks. But it was also to give my wife space and time to get her Masters work done. I often take the girls into the city, but this time was different as the youngest was without nappies and a stroller.

This should be a joyous occasion. No more changing bums or pushing the stroller. However, there was a part of me that felt somehow out of whack. These habits have become a part of my everyday life. Like all habits, I am happy to change when needed and often push myself to do so, but the connection with identity is an odd one. A colleague recently highlighted this when she asked whether persisting with certain routines involving others was in fact for me. Although I don’t think I persisted with nappies etc for my own sake, it does leave me thinking.

I am currently churning my way through A Handmaid’s Tale. One of the things that I am left wondering is who decided on all the technological solutions? Whether it be the cattle prods or severing arms, we do not get insight into the thinking behind such decisions, Gideon’s Josef Mengele.

This is one of the things about technology, whether good or bad. So much of the work that goes into managing and understanding it is assumed. It is incorporated into everyday life, magically maintained by modern day magicians. The challenge we all have is to stop every now and then to pull back the curtain and reflect upon the biases and intent really at play.a

I have been listening to a lot of Cory Doctorow lately after reading Walkaway. One of the points that he regularly makes is that everything breaks at some point. The question is often how we respond.

I was faced with that today when my train broke down. It was interesting to see people dash for their cars or call an Uber. What I think is missed in this is that if everyone manages to make their own way, there is no expectation of the transport company to have any sort of backup. So I waited.

Although I waited for 30+ minutes for the replacement bus, I eventually got to work and everything was ok. Sometimes we worry so much that we forget what it means to wait and that sometimes it is about the masses.

Who is responsible when no one is in charge? This is the question that I am currently grappling with as we work with our insurance company to work with a building company who then subcontract out various jobs. Even though we are told we are a priority customer and that they are sorry for the hassle – is that what they say to everyone – I cannot think of one situation that has gone to some sort of plan.

The problem is, who do you speak to? Clearly the phone operators are just doing there job, while the various trades are doing theirs. (Note: we have had two different trades turn up randomly on the wrong day) Do we speak with the project manager in charge? Probably, if you can get a hold of them and they are able to actually bring your job up on the computer?

Although the ‘rise of the robots’ may resolve some of this, I think it comes back to care amd customer service. It really has me considering what cover we get and how much we pay. Maybe sometimes you pay for what you get?

I am currently read (or listening to be correct) to Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway. What interests me is the idea of the future. There are many aspects of the novel that seem far beyond today, yet at the same time there is an uncanny plausibility that haunts the whole time.

I think this experience is no different to other novels set in the future as well as the fast:

The books challenge us how we live without telling us how to live.

I have lost count the amount of times that the art of making a sandwich has been used as the ultimate example of human algorithms. Although I agree it can be useful, I do not think that it provides the nuance for appreciating machine learning. For me this comes in the form of music.

I love listening to music with my daughters. One minute it might be a Disney classic, the next some pop song off the radio. What interests me is when I introduce something new to see the response. Each decision influences the next choice. This rather than sandwiches captures the challenges and complexities associated with ‘algorithms’ and ‘machine learning’.

I got caught in another discussion about ‘lookup tables‘ today. There are some people I work with who get really caught up with what they are and how they work. Another colleague pointed out to me afterwards that most applications have lookup tables it is just that our application actually allows users to easily edit the various tables.

This had me wondering if a way of thinking about ‘lookup tables’ is the collection of ideas and values that we reference each and every day? As with different applications, maybe there are those whose foundations are more visible and obvious that others? As Ben Werdmuller suggests,

We’ve all got red lines. They’re ours alone to draw.