Your Neighbor, What a Guy

“Modern globalization
Coupled with condemnations
Unnecessary death
Matador corporations
Puppeting your frustrations with a blinded flag
Manufacturing consent is the name of the game
The bottom line is money …
Boom, Boom, Boom,
Every time you drop a bomb
You kill the god your child has born
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom …BOOM”


After a lengthy hiatus in honor of a very special woman, Leading the Horse has returned to chronicle the life and times of Ken West, America’s Premier Itinerant Carpenter, to find our intrepid source preparing to take on the Virginia chill.
“I’m sleeping outside tonight,” West said, while wearing four layers of clothing and wrapping leaves around his legs. “I’ve made arrangements – I got a cardboard house. Cardboard is good – it’s only 32 degrees. It’s only gonna snow 3 inches. I’m gonna get my ass up tomorrow and go do something exceptional.”
Going “back to square one,” West began with the usual screed on North Korea and its legacy of constructing underground tunnels.
“They’ve got all their military underground,” West said before contrasting the Hermit Kingdom with its neighbor to the south.
“South Korea is a christian nation,” West said. “They live in apartment buildings, they all eat the same rice … South Korea is like a super-organism.”
West renewed his often-repeated calls for peace on the Korean peninsula in the form of food aid.
“We don’t need to be starving humanoids,” West said. “They’re militarily prepared to not be threatened anymore – let them be unified – that’s the solution. Rice – we got plenty of it, don’t we? Send them a barge of rice – and olive oil – and some vegetables … they’d probably like to eat roast beef – they wouldn’t be puny people no more.”
West called for disarmament of a radical kind and dismantling the nuclear stockpiles, turning today’s swords to plowshares.
“The only thing the bomb is good for is destroying the flesh,” West said.

Just hours later, in a follow up interview, West reported from the interior of a Best Buy, while watching the seven wonders of the world displayed on many large screens.
“Do they know that there are so many souls buried under that wall?” West said, describing a scene depicting the Great Wall of China. “You died while you were building that wall – they put your bones under the wall – you became part of the wall.”
While explaining to a salesman on the floor that he was contemplating a purchase, West made several disjointed analogies between the Chinese wall and the new border wall promoted by former WWF personality turned president Donald Trump.
West then turned his thoughts toward home, reporting on “the latest from Charlottesville” and quoting an unnamed former Virginia governor.
“He said that Charlottesville made a bad boo-boo,” West said. “Everybody’s busting on Charlottesville right now. They busted on me. They broke my teeth out.”
West described his plans for reparations.
“I’ve started the process,” he said. “I’ve got names and numbers.”

In addition, West plans to market a “snap on” product for car windshields, and a set of instructional videos for DIY house painters.
Before signing off, West mentioned his need to confide “a peculiar thing” to the people of the world, describing a theoretical spiritual process.
“What if Jesus asked the Creator to do it all again?” West said. “But not to die – just to experience life in this crazy world we live in?”

After several asides, West ended with another stab at autobiography.
“Who am I? I used to skateboard in Hollywood … Guess who I am? I will not brag. I’ll just be.”

Want to Compete and Innovate in Business? Hire a Receptionist

With major recent advances in all sorts of analytical and cognitive technologies, business seems to be moving decisively in the direction of automation. However, this list to starboard, which has been happening for a number of years, leaves businesses in a profound state of disconnect with their audiences. It may be that the only solution to this problem is to return to a more human-centered approach to business communications.

Nearly anyone who contacts a business has a problem. Or, to state it another way, the customers need help. They want to engage and rationalize on a human level — on a social level and in the context of social human relationships. However, increasingly, what they hear and experience in first-tier communication is a bewildering and unwieldy interface — an aggravating series of menu options. Machines that talk much more slowly than a human would in a social scenario. Unclear directories and unclear choices. Some of the worst systems also have poor comprehension, so that they restate problem messages multiple times.

All of this is decisively negative to the customer experience. There is a reason that executives and others have been pounding the drums about customer experience, suggesting that automation will soon innovate at a level beyond what is currently offered. It’s because customer experience is key to business, and a lot of people seem to understand that.

What some don’t understand is that even though artificial intelligence and machine learning are progressing rapidly, these technologies are still more or less in their infancy and have specific limitations related to their capabilities. These specific limitations can be applied in different ways to self-driving vehicles, generative and discriminative engines in machine learning, chat bots and other artificial intelligence entities, and last but not least — interactive voice response systems.

Ask a human receptionist why their IVR is so bad, and you’re not likely to be understood. They may not know the acronym or even the term — or they might play dumb. Part of the irony inherent in these business systems is that the humans at the very end of this automation chain don’t understand how aggravating that automation chain is for the customers. This compounds the problem.

Take the example of mental health services. In corporate mental health services systems, providers will often put their scheduling and appointment setting functionality into an automated IVR system. The problem is that when a customer needs assistance from a mental health provider, he or she is unlikely to be in the frame of mind to navigate one of these aggravating and unwieldy systems. In other words, the automation does not serve the customer.

This is particularly salient in the example of mental health services, because what should be a human-based communications model for a humane service setup has been largely replaced by a corporate and automated model that is inherently incapable of handling the demands placed on it. But it’s not necessary to restrict this problem to the field of mental health services — it can be as broadly applied as the customer who has purchased a sweater with holes in it, the individual whose vehicle has broken down the freeway, or even a business buyer who needs marketing services. In any of these cases, the likelihood is that the customer experience is going to be degraded and poorly served by today’s automated technologies.

Again, this is not a reflection on the rapid progress of the technologies themselves. Deep Blue can beat Kasparov, and Watson can beat human Jeopardy contestants, and different technologies can pass the Turing test with flying colors, but none of this solves the customer’s problem — that he or she needs to be served in the context of the social interaction.

This brings us to a somewhat more technical analysis of the major shortcomings in current machine learning and artificial intelligence models.

Although engineers have learned to simulate the human brain to an amazing extent, deficiencies still exist related to the specific classes of functions that make up human behavior and activity. Specifically, although these technologies can use probabilistic inputs to provide complex results, they are not extremely adept at the sorts of contextual transactions that make up our everyday lives. As a concrete example, a machine learning program may be good at predicting whether or not a human actor will take a step, direct eye movement in a specific way, move a hand or choose a specific button from an array of controls. What the technology is not good at is understanding why someone may make these or other actions.

Another limitation has to do with what some experts might call the “politeness principle” based on a disequilibrium in rational actors’ choices. Going back to the example of a classic Nash equilibrium, we realize that in game theory, most social games have an applicable Nash equilibrium that can be modeled fairly easily. However, some games are structured so that a Nash equilibrium is not practical – or, more specifically, where a Nash equilibrium is only applicable in a fixed set of game scenarios.


In a lecture on game theory, Professor Padraic Bartlett explains this in terms of a “social game” of two individuals walking down a hallway toward each other (given a hallway with only two binary path options) –  identifying (left, left) and (right,right) as the two acceptable Nash equilibria, and stating:

“These are the only two equilibria: if we were in either of the mixed states, both players would want to switch, (thus leading to yet another conflict, and the resulting awkwardness).”

Here we see the challenges of applying a Nash equilibrium based on complex social factors. The rational actors have “de facto” choices – and when those choices are made clearly enough, the equilibrium results. Each player knows what is best. But when certain outlier events create uncertainty (maybe one person steps hesitantly, or the other approaching individual misreads a visual cue) the rule fails and the resulting social program is thrown into a infinite loop.

It’s easy to confuse these kinds of “glitches” with scenarios that dispute an equilibrium, such as the “prisoner’s dilemma” where two players must avoid cooperation for the best outcome, but in reality, as we can see, with the politeness principle, a Nash equilibrium does exist and can be implemented. It’s only in the glitchy application of the rule that the equilibrium proves insufficient. (In the established lexicon, this is “trembling hand” equilibrium challenge.)

In other words, we see that if two rational actors choose complementary binary choices (or “uncomplementary” binary choices as it were), they are likely to experience the kinds of recursive decision-making problems that will throw the programs into an infinite loop without exterior human guidance. Unlike two individuals walking toward each other in the hallway, these newly sentient technologies do not have the social ability to make a choice, and to a great extent will not be successful in navigating the problem itself. Here the politeness is a learned skill that is largely unquantifiable and presents machine learning with a significant modeling problem.

Yet another specific limitation relates to the use of highly fitted or possibly overfitted engines that actually approach some of the human qualities that produce indecision. In other words, machines that adopt some of our behaviors may be presented with difficulties related to some of our other behaviors. An article in KD Nuggets posted earlier last year speaks about the use of deep stubborn networks and how they have been engineered with greater complexity. A generative and discriminative engine work at odds with each other to produce collaborative results. This starts to approach some of the higher-level activity in the human mind that is not able to be modeled through linear programming. As the writer describes, what happens is that the competition between the generative and discriminative engines produces some quality that can almost be described as social — a malaise or conflict or, as the author puts it, “anxiety” that is an essential part of the human experience.

Applying words like “anxiety” and “doubt” to machine learning models is inherently a bit of a contradiction. It shows how much progress we have made in constructing machines that can think like us — but it also shows why those machines are not fully or even remotely functional in social roles. They cannot deal with the indecision and anxiety that are produced by their mechanics — and so they cannot serve customers who need this higher-level functionality. This is easy to understand in an elementary sense — we know that although IVR systems can tell people what hours the shop is open, or give people directions to the location, they can’t help customers with a broken toilet or guide them through how to negotiate a better rate on services. However, we don’t know exactly why this is unless we scratch the surface of these cognitive models and start learning about what machine learning can and can’t do.

Faced with an ultimate choice, many companies will stubbornly continue to focus on the possibilities of automation. They will rely on the prestige of new technologies and their abilities to dazzle the general public. They will throw their eggs into the basket of trying to increase the spectrum of what IVR can do. (Many of them led by profit-seeking vendors). Other companies, debatably smarter companies, will simply employ humans to direct business communications in ways that will actually really enhance the customer experience.


This morning I had an epiphany.
Much has been made of the far right’s destructive power in national politics — for example Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew” and other tomes, pamphlets and essays that remind us of how a party out of control has taken a monkey wrench to the levers of power in American politics.
There’s a simple solution that many of us have been overlooking — people who don’t like politics, and don’t like politicians, and don’t really believe in civic micromanagement, maybe shouldn’t be involved in evaluating politics at all.
The Republican Party at this point is like a child who’s been asked to come to the board and do a math problem, and he does it badly, because he doesn’t want to.
Johnny and Susie went up to the board to figure out 2+2. Susie went primly up to the board and neatly wrote a well-contoured “four” under the chalk line. Johnny swaggered up, ripped a loud fart, and angrily scrawled a five.
The tragedy of the situation is that enough students voted for Johnny’s “2+2=5” mostly to spite the teacher, who in this metaphor is either Lady iberty or the individual holds the scales of justice. Sorry folks – Susie’s a suck-up.
The evidence is all around us — incompetent and mean-spirited individuals being promoted to posts which they have in the past wanted to eliminate entirely; the rampant defunding and mismanagement of various federal agencies, etc.
There is a very easy fix to this — people who don’t like the job of providing for others and finding a way to steer the ship of democracy in the right direction should simply go do something else instead of voting and giving money to candidates and all that stuff.
In other words, as a country we been trying to desperately meld the values of the far right with the idea of civic good. The problem is that these two things are not inherently mixable — an ideology that alienates millions of people and up to half of the entire electorate isn’t going to be oriented towards working toward that civic good. It’s going to be inherently oriented towards a divisive and radically disruptive goal that has nothing to do with the civic good, and is extremely toxic to its intentions. This has been played out instructively in the “states rights” civil rights battles of the last century. The federal government’s job was to protect all citizens – and the state houses didn’t like it.
To put it yet another way — many of the individual constituents of the far right base do have values and ways of life that are worth preserving. They are abundantly steeped in the ways of traditional America — which is probably not a bad thing in many, many ways, but again, may be somewhat toxic to the job of federal statesmanship.
Many of these individuals take pride in being hard-working people of the land and people who do not choose to spend their time scribbling in pages or squinting at a computer screen, or dealing with the inherent bureaucracy of the federal system. Let these individuals do what they do best, whether it’s farming or ranching or blacksmithing or whatever gets their hands dirty and provides needed services for a population. Do not force them to, like recalcitrant students, go up to the chalkboard and try to participate in the evaluation of civic and public administration.
Many of them have no interest, and frankly very little aptitude, and have not practiced the inherent skills needed to do this in any meaningful way. Let’s be very clear that this is not to state that these individuals are inferior in any way, or that they lack the intellectual stamina in general to govern — instead, my view is that they lack the will and the sensitivity and the general disciplines needed to participate in these civic exercises – simply because they have not invested in them. Aas exhibit one, look at the marginalization of any realistic voices in the Republican party – the marginalization of “mavericks” like McCain and deficit hawks like Ron and Rand Paul. The base has chosen “apolitical” operatives whose platforms don’t make sense – partly because they dislike government so much that they don’t care if it makes sense or not.
As a result, they can simply give to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and cease to try to steer the ship directly into the iceberg. We will be left with a set of technocrats and statespeople who will calmly and cleverly run the American ship as it has run for many years, largely as a system acquiescent to big business, but which has at least a veneer of normalcy.
Will they be the best people? No. They may not be entirely responsive to the needs of the population, but they will at least apply that responsiveness or unresponsiveness fairly broadly and universally, because having been trained in the sensibilities of civic administration, they understand how not to alienate. They understand how not to divide.
This doesn’t suggest, again, that they have in general superior moral or ethical premises when it comes to wealth redistribution, family values or anything else — although the case can be made that their social sensibilities fit better with the needs of today’s electorate.
The point is that they can bring a basic level of organization and brinksmanship to the job — which they will need, because the efforts of the right can be again focused on simply hating the federal government and everything that it stands for. The only remaining job will be to keep the peace between the federal government and the states, as we have done these many years since 1865.
The above is one of those ideas that might yet have its day — it seems simple, but stated out loud, just scratches the surface of the roiling morass of political turmoil that has now seeped into every aspect of our lives. We owe it to ourselves to explore these ideas, and to try to explore them, not with the bias inherent to each of us in this polarized society, but instead more conceptually, as individual scholars and again — those of us who don’t want to do this can simply leave the whole dirty issue of politics alone, instead of trying to struggle with something they hate.