What I’m currently learning in Data Science | Data Science Somedays

Black and white keyboard with red space invader icon

It is 26 September as I write this meaning that I’m on day 26 of #66daysofdata.

If this is unfamiliar to you, it’s a small journey started by a Data Scientist named Ken Jee. He decided to “restart” his data science journey is invited us all to come along for the ride.

I’m not a data scientist, I’ve just always found the young field interesting. I thought, for this instance of Data Science Somedays, I’ll go through some of the things I’ve learned (in non-technical detail).


Data Ethics

I’m starting with this because I actually think it’s one of the most important, yet overlooked parts of Data Science. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Not everything is good simply because it can be completed with an algorithm.

One of the problems with Data Science, at least in the commercial sphere, is that there’s a lot of value in having plenty of data. Sometimes, this value is taken as a priority versus privacy. In addition, many adversaries understand the value of data and as a result, aim to muddy the waters with large disinformation campaigns or steal personal data. What does the average citizen do in this scenario?

Where am I learning this? Fast.ai’s Pratical Data Ethics course.


Coding

How do I even start?

Quite easily because I’m not that good at programming so I haven’t learned all that much. Some of the main things that come to mind are:

  1. Object Oriented Programming (this took me forever to wrap my head around… it’s still difficult).
  2. Python decorators
  3. Functions

All of this stuff has helped me create:

None of them are impressive. But they exist and I was really happy when I fixed my bugs (if there are more, don’t tell me).

Where am I learning this? 2020 Complete Python Bootcamp: From Zero to Hero in Python.

(I said earlier I haven’t learned much – that’s just me being self-deprecating. It’s a good course – I’m just not good at programming… yet.

I also bought this for £12. Udemy is on sale all the time (literally))


Data visualisation and predictions

Pandas

After a while, I wanted to direct my coding practice to more data work rather than gaining a general understanding of Python.

To do this, I started learning Pandas which is a library (a bunch of code that helps you quickly do other things), that focuses on data manipulation. In short, I can now use Excel files with python. It included things such as:

  • How to rename columns
  • How to find averages, reorganise information, and then create a new table
  • How to answer basic data analysis questions

Pandas is definitely more powerful than the minor things I mentioned above. It’s still quite difficult to remember how to use all of the syntax so I still have to Google a lot of basic information but I’ll get there.

Where am I learning this? Kaggle – Pandas

Bokeh and Seaborn

When I could mess around with excel files and data sets, I took my talents to data visualisation.

Data visualisation will always be important because looking at tables are 1) boring, 2) slow, and 3) boring. How could I make my data sets at least look interesting?

Seaborn is another library that makes data visualisation much simpler (e.g. “creating a bar chart in one line of code” simpler).

Bokeh is another library that seems to be slightly more powerful in the sense that I can then make my visualisations interactive which is helpful. Especially when you have a lot of information to display at once.

I knew that going through tutorials will have their limit as my hand is always being held so I found a data set on ramen and created Kaggle notebooks. My aim was to practice and show others what my thought process was.

Where am I learning this? Seaborn | Bokeh


Machine learning

This is my most recent venture. How can I begin to make predictions using code, computers and coffee?

So for all of the above, I still find quite difficult and there will be a little while until I can say “I know Python” but this topic seemed like the one with the biggest black box.

If I say

filepath = “hello.csv”

“pandas.read_csv(filepath)”

I understand that I’m taking a function from the Pandas library, and that function will allow me to interact with the .csv file I’ve called.

If I say sklearn.predict(X_new_data) – honestly what is even happening? Half the time, I feel like it’s just luck that I get a good outcome.

Where am I learning this? Kaggle – Intro to machine learning


What is next?

I’m going to continue learning about data manipulation with Pandas and Bokeh as those were the modules I found the most interesting to learn about. However, that could very easily change.

My approach to learning all of this is to go into practice as soon as I can even if it’s a bit scary. It exposes my mistakes and reminds me that working through tutorials often leaves me feeling as though I’ve learned more than I have.

There’s also a second problem – I’m not a Computer Science student so I don’t have the benefit of learning the theory behind all of this stuff. Part of me wants to dive in, the other part is asking that I stay on course and keep learning the practical work so I can utilise it in my work.

Quite frequently, I get frustrated by not understanding and remembering what I’m learning “straight away”. However, this stuff isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. So it might take some time.

And that’s alright. Because we’re improving slowly.

This is who I call for when I call for my mum

When I call for my mum

While George Floyd was being killed, he called for his mum.

I can’t move
Mama
Mama

His mum had passed away two years prior to this moment yet, at the forefront of his memory as he understands he could die, he calls for her. He is not delirious, dumb or silly. He knew what he was doing and why.

In that moment, he simply wanted his mum.

When I call for my mum, I call for the woman who stayed with me for 100 days while I was in an incubator in the early days of my life.

When I call for my mum, I call for the woman who would go to work in the early hours of the morning, come back late, and still want to know what my day was like in school.

When I call for my mum, I call for the woman who wanted the best for her children every day and tried to make sure it happened.

When I call for my mum, I call for the woman who wishes she could take my chronic pain and hold it herself just to make sure that I’m comfortable.

When I call for my mum, I find myself calling for warmth, love, and fantastic jollof rice with plantain (mum, if you’re reading this – please and thank you).


I’m lucky to have wonderful women in my life who are still here to experience its ups and downs with me. For that, I will be thankful.

I am lucky I am able to be thankful because my life wasn’t slowly squeezed out of my body at the hands of someone who was meant to protect me.

In the midst of these protests, this anger, this injustice, let us remember that the community we are fortunate to have, will often carry us through adversity. Sometimes how we approach adversity will change the world. Other times, it’ll change our small knit community. Maybe it’ll even just change one mind.

Often, the smallest changes that are made consistently over time will be the most impactful ones. Attitudes, thoughts and feelings will change. To help the world finally understand what it means for a black life to matter.


Gianna Floyd now says “Daddy changed the world!”

Indeed he has, Gianna. He will continue to do so.

For me, my world has been strongly influenced by my mum, my grandmother and aunts. For my dad, I know his world has been influenced by his mum.

In these times, I think of all of the black men and women who have been unjustly killed as a result of systematic racism. How many of them thought of their mum’s in their last moments?

Perhaps, when the world cries for its mum, it cries for love and warmth too. Or even the anger that only mothers seem to have when their child is hurt.

That is who I call for, when I call for my mum.

I’m 25 – and I’m angry

Every year, around my birthday, I write a post about myself. When I wrote regularly about self-improvement, it would usually be a reflection on how I’m achieving my goals.

Yet, when I reflect on being 25, within the context of our current world, the only emotion that comes to mind is anger.

I am angry. I am hurting.

I am hurting for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am hurting for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – respect.

I am angry for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am angry for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – equality.

Anger, in these times, is arguably the most appropriate reaction to the death of George Floyd and all our brothers and sisters before him. We cannot always control how that anger is expressed and we certainly cannot tell people to not be angry for that only works to silence their pain.

Demanding “cool pragmatism” simply says “take a number, we’ll get to you” then closing the shop indefinitely.

Must we come to sit at your table for justice? It is not as though we do not have space at ours. Our invitations are simply not accepted or acknowledged.

As I’m writing these words, Kendrick Lamar’s I Hate You has popped up…

Let me start off this letter saying I don’t like you, scared of you but I will fight you

I stare at the ceiling and think about you

Curiosity killing me, thinking of when Ima meet you

You introduced yourself to so many others, mothers, sisters and brothers, children

Kendrick Lamar – I Hate You (Letter to Death)

There are no black people who have not experienced racism, whether it is explicit or implicit or even been harmed by unconscious biases and systems that work to disadvantage them on a daily basis. Whether they are in the UK (as I am) or anywhere else.

I am simply lucky that I haven’t been pinned to the floor with a knee behind my neck.

Even though I’m 25, Tamir Rice will never be 25. Nor will Mike Brown. Nor will Trayvon Martin. Nor will… who is next?

We all have a responsibility to make the world better, to rid it from injustice and to not only look for the helpers – be a helper.

Even if it isn’t our fault. It will forever be our responsibility.

#JusticeForGeorgeFloyd

The Myth of a Productive Pandemic

On 23 March, the UK went into lockdown to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. As a result, a large majority of people are forced to spend much more time at home either by themselves or with the immediate people they live with.

People have unfortunately lost their jobs, others have to work from home and some simply have much less work to do.

Unfortunately, this has lead to far too many articles on “how to be productive while you’re at home” or “How to start a business from home” articles.

Generally, it’s fine to want to be productive (whatever that even means…) but there is an unnecessary environment growing which pressures people to be productive simply because we’re now at home.

While time has been gained because we’ve lost our commute times (on average, we’ve gained back one hour), it doesn’t mean we can, or even need to, utilise that time “productively”.

There is a lot we do not know

Many of us have never had to live through a viral outbreak that shut down the world’s economy. We are learning more about ourselves and interactions with one another as lockdown’s around the world continue. It raises a number of questions:

Will the structure of the economy look the same after the pandemic?

What will the end of the pandemic look like?

Will remote working become more commonplace?

Will we learn anything?

Big questions that everyone will end up considering. It isn’t something we can ignore and “leave for the politicians and academics” because it directly impacts all of us.

Because of this, we will also figure out how we best adapt to long-term working from home. We are not simply “at home“. We are “forced to stay home during a pandemic“.

It’s an important distinction even though, right now, it often doesn’t feel like it exists in practice.

We are in unknown territory at the moment. Emotionally, socially, and physically.

If you feel pressured to be productive, remember, most of us won’t be. Especially at the beginning

And those who claim to be productive, will be far less productive than portrayed.

Prioritise family and self-care. Allow yourself to experiment with healthy coping mechanisms.

But do not get lulled into the idea that we need to boost our productivity by 1000% to be valuable.

Most importantly, wash your hands and stay indoors. Boring, but effective. 

Books I read in January

Last year I did a reading challenge. I wanted to hit 40 books read for the year and was recording my progress on Goodreads.

I promptly forgot to log anything on Goodreads for the entire year, tried to remember what I read throughout the year and hoped that I remembered everything.

I didn’t. I got mixed up with books that I read in 2016 so I have no idea how many books I read last year.

In 2020, I’ve realised that doesn’t matter at all. WHO CARES if someone has read a book a week for the entire year…

Instead, I’d like to increase the amount of time spent reading rather than the number of books read.

Using the number of books and a measuring metric encourages skimming, and picking shorter books to stay on track.

Trying to maximise the amount of time spent reading accomplishes the whole point of these reading challenges. To read more – without making you feel bad for being “slow” or “reading short books” or “lying about the number of books read”.

I’ve said my piece… onto the good stuff.

Books I read in January

January books

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts – Laura Tillman

An insightful read that has evidently been treated with the appropriate sensitivity required of a case like this. She managed to bring in the impact the case had on a small community through valuable interviews and research.

Unfortunately, overall, it wasn’t all that interesting.

When I finished the book, I genuinely felt that her talents were wasted on this case. She has the ability to navigate sensitive areas well but my goodness, the case, while gruesome, just failed to interest me. Pity.

The Girl Who Stole An Elephant – Nizrana Farook

A very enjoyable and easy read (and I was disappointed it was over!) The characters were a pleasure to know as their friendship grew during their journey.

Apparently, stealing an elephant will force you to become well acquainted.

I picked this up because I loved the cover and I’ve been enjoying children’s books a lot. This didn’t disappoint – though the ending was slightly rushed.

Ayoade On Top – Richard Ayoade

This was a short, enjoyable read about, yes, a film no one has seen. Including me. However, this has convinced me to fill the aeroplanecentric-comedy-hole in my heart.

Ayoade’s personality shines through every page and it’s wonderful that it isn’t just another biography.

I still haven’t watched the film yet though, so my opinions may change after the viewing…

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

This book is a wonderful thriller and I haven’t read one of this sort in a while.

The main shortcoming is that it’s only in the second half of the book do we understand just how talented Mr Ripley is… And how much luck he has on his side.

But the ending was a masterclass in tension building. Brilliant!

Really enjoyed this read – mainly surprised I hadn’t read it sooner!

A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond

Everyone has heard of Paddington but I realised I had never read the books. Without a doubt, one of the most fun books I have ever read.

Paddington, a bear from the darkest Peru always gets himself into some kind of commotion but despite his best intentions. … But let’s not forget, he is a literal bear.

We can’t blame him for too much, can we?

Ladies and gentlemen, 2020 may have only just started but this may be my book of the year. I decided that, during lunch and my afternoon walk, I’d go to Waterstones, sit down and read a chapter.

The perfect cure to a bad day. I recently watched the film too – wonderful adaptation. I love Paddington, I love the Brown family, I love Mr Gruber, I love everything about Paddington Bear.


And that brings me to the end.

The number of books may be unsustainable for the year but I will do my best to maintain or increase the amount of time I spend reading.

It’s been incredible amounts of fun.

Socials:

Facebook – Improving Slowly

Twitter – Improving Slowly

Let’s write an email | Data Science Some Days

Ladies and gentlemen, this has been a long time coming.

So, I’ve finally started programming. Technically, I started months ago but I’ve made such a piss-poor effort at being consistent, that I’ve done next to nothing.

I was growing frustrated – often having nightmares asking the question – will I ever be able to say “Hello World”?

Evidently, simply thinking about it would never work. I can buy as many Udemy courses as I want – that won’t turn me into a data scientist. My wonderful solution to this is to go straight into a project and learn as I go. I’m learning python 3.6. But first…

print("Hello World")

I have joined the elites.


Ok, the project goes as follows:

I need to send emails to specific groups of people a week before the event starts. The email should also include attachments specific to the person I’m sending the email to and it will have HTML elements to it.

To break it down…

  • I need to send an email
  • I need to send a HTML email
  • I need to send a HTML email with attachments
  • I need to send a HTML email with attachments to certain people

There’s more but I’ve only managed the first two so far. This programming stuff is difficult and the only reason why I’m not computer illiterate is because I was born in the 90s.

I started off by opening these tutorials:

They’re both great and use slightly different methods to achieve the same result. Maybe you’ll notice that my final solution ends up being a desperate cry for help combination of them both.

LET US BEGIN.


Here is the first iteration of the code:

import smtplib
#sets up simple mail transer protocol

smtpObj = smtplib.SMTP('smtp-mail.outlook.com', 587)
type(smtpObj)
#Connects to the outlok SMTP server

smtpObj.ehlo()
#Says "hello" to the server

smtpObj.starttls()
#Puts SMTP connection in TLS mode.
#I didn't get any confirmation when I ran the program though...

smtpObj.login('email1@email.com', input("Please enter password: ")
#Calls an argument to log into the server and input password.

smtpObj.sendmail('email1@email.com', 'email2@gmail.com', 'Subject: Hello mate \nLet\'s hope you get this mail')
#Email it's coming from, email it's going to, the message

smtpObj.quit()
#ends the session

print('Session ended')
#Tells me in the terminal it's now complete


Boom, pretty simple right? I mainly took everything from Automate the Boring stuff and just swapped in my details. Well, of course not. I kept on getting an error – nothing was happening.

Well – I was somehow using the WRONG EMAIL. FUCK. It took me an hour to realise that.


Next step… let’s send an email with bold and italics.

This was frustrating because nothing worked. All it really requires is for you to put in the message in HTML format. Because I’m not learning HTML, I decided to just use this nifty HTML converter to make this part less painful.

Here are my errors…

#regularly get "Syntax error" with smtpObj.sendmail - I was missing a fucking bracket

This literally made me to go bed angry.


'''everything in the HTML goes into the subject line -
smtpObj.sendmail('email@email', 'email2@gmail.com', "Subject: " f"Hello mate \n {html}")'''

This was a surprise but I figured out to stop it…

'''Now nothing shows up in the body of the message:
smtpObj.sendmail('email1@.ac.uk', 'email2@gmail.com', f"Subject: \n Hello mate {html}")
Solved by putting {html} next to \n'''

…then it somehow got worse…

'''Now... the email doesn't actually show up in html format
smtpObj.sendmail('email1@.ac.uk', 'email2@gmail.com', f"Subject: Hello mate\n{html}")'''

…and even worse.


At this point, I changed tactic and, in the process, the entirety of my code. I won’t show you everything here otherwise this post will look too technical to those who have no experience with coding but I’ve uploaded my progress so far onto Github.

To summarise, rather than trying to send HTML with the technique I used earlier, I used a module that was essentially created to make sending emails with python much easier (email.mime). This essentially means, it contains prewritten code that you can then use to create other programs.

But… I was successful in sending myself a HTML email. Now the next step is to add a bloody attachment without putting my head through my computer.


Dear reader, you may be wondering, “why is he putting himself through so much suffering? He sounds incredibly angry.

I’m not, I promise. This has actually been the most fun I’ve had in my free time in a while. It was a good challenge and I could sense myself improving after every mistake.

Granted, I probably should have just completed an online course or something before trying to jump into this project but that would have been less fun.

Onto the next one…

Thanks for reading!

5 ways to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life

Mindfulness is really easy to not practice it because at first it can be boring, intimidating and seem pointless.

But – it is a practice, not a solution. It takes time but it pays off. I want to help make it easier for you.

Here are 5 methods you can use to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.

Pockets of peace

Meditation for most people can be pretty daunting. It’s tough to just sit in a room for 10 minutes and observe your thoughts if you’ve never done it before.

Instead, try 30s to 2 minutes of paying attention to your breathing or your surroundings. I recommend having nothing in your hands (especially your phone).

You can do this as many times as you want throughout the day. This way it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming obligation you’re tempted to skip.

Treat yourself to “pockets of peace” throughout the day.

 

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Photo by Luigi Liccardo on Unsplash

 

 

Slow eating

Mindful eating is an important technique to keep in your toolbox.

When you’re eating, for the first few spoonfuls (forkfuls… whatever, you get the point), try to appreciate the flavours and textures of the food. If you do this, you can actually appreciate food much more, especially if you made it yourself.

Another technique is… I pretend I’m a chef who’s figuring out what spices are in my food. Even if I know all of them in advance.

It’s silly but it’s fun, and I like to pretend.

Mindful cleaning

Similar to the pockets of peace earlier, when you’re cleaning the house, instead of treating it as something you hate or want to run away from, try this:

Your house, your body, whatever you choose to clean, is important because you spend a lot of time with it.

When you clean it, you’re helping it get back to its best.

You’re making your environment better. Whether it’s one dish, a fluffy afro or folding away one shirt.

Morning stretching

The morning can be extremely hectic because

1) Who wants to be awake in the morning

2) It’s time to prepare for work

But, stay with me now, you can do some stretching for 30 seconds, and do them without any distractions.

Not only do you get to treat your body well but you get to practice mindfulness at the same time.

You can follow the sequence in this article.

 

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Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

 

Your next walk

Whether it’s a 5 minute trip to the store or a 30-minute stroll through a park, put your phone away and take in your surroundings as best you can.

What colour do you see most often?

Are there any clouds in the sky?

Are there many people around you?

Is the floor bumpy or smooth?


These small techniques will help you get started with a mindfulness practice. They are non-invasive and don’t take up a lot of time.

With practice, you’ll be intentionally be more mindful and with time, you’ll be better equipped with skills to help you handle stressful situations.

One step at a time.

Let me know what has helped you below!


As always, thank you for reading!

Follow me on twitter @improvingslowly and Facebook for more work on mindfulness, technology and disability.

And a few bad jokes.

 

You Are Stronger Than Your Pain (Pt.2)

Chronic pain, whether the intensity is high or low, can feel like the only defining feature of your personality.

It chips away at your energy and your willingness to do things you enjoy.

When you’re in pain, you may feel as though everything is meaningless.


Our aim, when we tackle chronic pain, often isn’t to get rid of it completely.

When we live with the pain rather than live against it, it means that we grow to understand how to manoeuver the world despite the pain and in many cases, this can make us stronger.

This takes some acceptance, some courage and a sprinkle of determination.

Manoeuvring the world with pain is a skill. It takes time to learn your body and how it changes when everything hurts.

It’s a skill to keep smiling, to laugh and to stave off cynicism. If you ever have the fortune of no longer being in pain, these are skills that you will carry with you forever.

It’s a skill to make time to complete some self-care. It’s forever tempting to try keeping up with the people around you and ignore the consistent distraction and disadvantage that is chronic pain!

It’s a skill to focus more – even if it’s just because you can’t sit in the same spot forever!

It’s a skill to slow down, be mindful and be kind to ourselves.

It takes effort to get to work or keep the house clean or simply take care of ourselves. Even if you are being cared for by someone else – we express gratitude with a “thank you”.

Do you see it now? Pain feels like it is all consuming but we’re actually strong people. No matter how weak we feel. The simple fact that you’re able to do more than just be in pain, shows that there is more to your life than pain.


 

I’ve been in pain for 10 years now and I’m still very much a rookie. However, I’ve learned skills that help me with negative thoughts. I’ve learned to be more empathetic with people. I’ve learned to move through my days slower but with greater focus.

At the foundation, chronic pain is a difficult mountain to climb. Especially when we’re at the bottom.

But, we can give ourselves credit – we get around the world despite being in pain. There’s more to our personalities than being “people who hurt all the time”.

It’s something to acknowledge and appreciate.

I want you to acknowledge that you’re stronger than your pain. There is more to you than being a vessel for pain.

And whatever that extra stuff is – appreciate it. Love it and value it.

We’re all trying to get better. One day at a time.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

Visit pt.1 here.

Is Monzo a force for good for the banking industry?

Within a year of its launch in 2015, Monzo was valued at £50m. Now, in 2019, it is a certified “unicorn” – a start-up valued at over £1 billion.

Staggering numbers for one of the earliest banks who challenged the traditional banking model by utilising technology. There are no branches, and everything is done via their smartphone app. With this, it has seen a primary customer base of under-40s.

As you can imagine, it has been popular with the younger generation.

Another monopoly to come?

In 2017, Tim Lewis of the Guardian rightfully asked, Is Monzo the Facebook of Banking? A powerful question for a young start-up. Even more so because this question is taken seriously.
Monzo has been growing rapidly with the younger generation because it takes advantage of the item we use the most – our smartphones – and couples with it a light and hospitable tone. This can give users the impression that Monzo is a helpful banking tool or friend that allows people to become more engaged with how their money travels.

Rather than an imposing vault we take money from and refuse to check because we’re scared of how much was spent on a night out. Shown by its strapline:

“We’re building the kind of bank that you’d be proud to call your own.”

Yet, a bank, no matter how wonderful its communications strategy is, cannot be your friend. In the same way that Facebook, no matter how much they apologise, still control vast amounts of personal data and use it to make money.

While it will be quite difficult for Monzo to grow to the same heights Facebook has (despite its aims to have 1 billion customers), it forces us to ask important questions about how we bank and the types of problems we face as users.

A Bank for the Devil’s Advocate

Before the Switch Guarantee was introduced in 2013, on average, we would stay with our banks for seventeen years.

With such impressive loyalty comes inevitable stagnation as innovation is not a requirement to stay ahead of the curve. Why spend money trying to do new things and failing?

With the introduction of banks like Monzo, we can almost see it as the bank for the devil’s advocate.

What if we wanted all our money to be safe? Monzo keeps all its money in the Bank of England and does without speculative trading.

What if we wanted to spend money abroad without fees? Monzo only charges 3% on withdrawals above £200.

What if I wanted to talk to someone through my phone without long waiting lines? Monzo’s helpline is a messaging service and you’re simply notified when there’s a representative ready.

What if my data was imitated because someone got access to my digital banking? Monzo… we’re not sure yet.
What if there was a concentrated cybersecurity attack on digital banking services? Monzo… hmm. Tough question.

What if Monzo reaches 1 billion users but instead of personal data, it controls money? Are these Facebook-sized problems? Yes. Yes, they are.

Speak of the devil and she will appear

Monzo does a lot of good for its customers by making it easier for them to access their money, find help and structure their savings in a way that benefits them.

Beyond that, we see a large long-term impact it has on the banking industry. It forces the industry to move into the digital age and answer important questions regarding cybersecurity, loyalty, and banking monopolies on a scale we have not yet experienced.

As frustrating as they can be to answer, it is better to attempt an answer, rather than hide from them until we have the Cambridge Analytica of finance breaches on our doorstep.

Tom Bloomfield says that Google’s “Don’t be evil” vow is limited. He asks instead:

“Why not try to leave the world a little better than you found it?”

Monzo, by itself, won’t be the complete answer to our banking problems. Let us not overestimate the impact of technology.

In the long-term, we may find ourselves thanking Bloomfield and Monzo for asking us questions about the banking industry we may not have seriously considered.

Perhaps that is how Monzo will leave the world a little better than before.

Locked in a cage by babies: let’s talk Superintelligent A.I.

Some people are better at following instructions than others.

A short while ago, I had a few people around my house to jam, have some drinks and play cards. None of them had been to my house before.

Some of my friends found it really easy to get here and didn’t call once to check how to make it. Others had a bit more difficulty. Some ignored my instructions completely and still got here.

The benefit of talking to people who have background knowledge of London is that my instructions can be pretty vague, yet still successful.

I have some younger nieces and nephews. If I ask them to bring me something, I have to be really clear on what it looks like, when to bring it to me and probably give them a motivation to do it. Sometimes it gets completed. Most of the time it doesn’t. However, I couldn’t blame them for that, they’re young and don’t know how to follow instructions as well as my 20-something-year-old friends.

I used to be friends with a lizard called Ella when I was 13. She peed on me once. That wasn’t even an instruction, she just did it.

What if they controlled us? 

So here’s a weird thought – what if these humans, nieces and nephews, and animals trapped us in a cage and were in charge of us?

When I tell my friends to do certain things and complete tasks, we can have a conversation and gain further clarity on the final goal.

This is what we call a “working relationship“. I mean, it’s still slavery but let’s ignore that for now. (What a strange thing to say…)

When I tell my nieces and nephews to do things, sometimes communication breaks down and I have to resort to different tricks like offering chocolate.  If they don’t understand me, I don’t get any kind of freedom.

This is what we call an “alarmingly frustrating relationship“.

When my lizard friend asks me to do something, I have no bloody idea what is happening because she doesn’t speak a human language. She starves because she doesn’t get any food from me.

This is what we call a “pointless relationship“.

As we progressed down the list of agents, the relationships became more difficult because I was smarter and smarter than them in comparison. Yet they, for some reason, were in charge of me. I want to help but they don’t understand me.

If a lizard controlled my fate, I would need to find a way out of this cage or I’d die.

We are the babies and lizards

Nick Bostrom popularised the term Superintelligence in the book of the same name to describe artificial intelligence that has surpassed human intelligence and capabilities in all domains. They are faster than us, remember more and complete complex tasks with greater ease. And they don’t need food to keep going.

We currently control computers. We tell them what to do, fix them and rely on them in specific domains. Now, what happens when they’re simply smarter than us but we don’t want them to take advantage of us much like we (unfortunately) take advantage of animals?

This is a problem that has, for a number of years, tormented Artificial Intelligence researchers [1].

In the above relationships, the intelligent being trapped in the cage is a waste of talents. But the babies just leave us trapped in the cage because they don’t understand what we’re saying.

I need to teach them the English language, how to read, how to understand complex directions and concepts and, perhaps most importantly, to trust us. This will take too long.

Immensely frustrating. So it’s better for us to find a way to leave the cage. We can help them better than they can help themselves.

When AI researchers talk about problems such as this, it often sounds like a silly fantasy made up as a way to inject more unnecessary terror in the world. Evil computer overlords – ha!

The problem they try to emphasise is that it isn’t evil artificial intelligence that we should worry about. It is capable artificial intelligence.

I can help these babies and animals better than they can help themselves so I when I get out of this cage, I’m going to lock them in this room so I can feed and teach them with greater ease.

We already rely on artificial intelligence in scenarios ranging from helping pilots fly, getting us information from the internet and fighting crime.

This has resulted in crashes [2], injection of fake news articles [3], and unintentional racist profiling [4].

Yet, we continue. Because it’s so helpful and easy. Following A.I is the path of least resistance so it’d take a remarkably quick change to cause a worldwide uprising… if it ever comes.

This isn’t a complaint about the current state of our attitudes towards artificial intelligence. This is to highlight the problem that superintelligent computers may pose to us in the next 50 to 100 years (or never, depending on how confident you are this will ever happen).

Superintelligent computers may not be evil. They may just be very good at what they do. So they should be in charge. Unless we’re happy to let babies run the world?

A.I.D.A.N

This brings us to the end of this short discussion. I want to point you in the direction of some great books because I’ve inevitably missed out a lot of detail here.

Inspiration: Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

More inspiration: Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

Slightly looser inspiration: Hello World by Hannah Fry

One of the freakiest A.Is in Sci-fi: The Illumnae Files by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman (All of them. It features an A.I named A.I.D.A.N who may or may not go off the rails.)

More Superintelligent A.I. in sci-fi: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman


As always, thank you for reading!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask below.

Twitter: @improvingslowly

Facebook: Improving Slowly

References:

[1] AI Takeover – Wikipedia

[2] Air France Flight 447: ‘Damn it, we’re going to crash’

[3] Facebook Is Changing News Feed (Again) to Stop Fake News

[4] Is Artificial Intelligence Racist?