The map-reduce is not the territory

AI has the potential to run our lives. We shouldn’t let it.

Ben Werdmuller

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Someone holding an old-fashioned compass in Yosemite.

There are two ways to use GPS navigation in a car:

The first is to use the directions as gospel. The system has found the right path for you to take; you need to follow them if you’re going to get to your destination.

The second is as a kind of North Star. The navigation will always point you towards your destination, but you know that you don’t have to follow the directions: if you choose to take one street instead of another, or take a detour, the system will adapt and find another way to go.

In the first scenario, the computer tells you what to do. In the second, it’s there to advise you, but the decisions are yours.

The first may get you there faster, if the systems’s model of the streets and traffic around you matches reality to an adequate degree. We’ve all discovered road closures or one-way streets that weren’t represented on-screen. By now, most people are familiar with the practical implications of Alfred Korzybski’s reminder that the map is not the territory even if they haven’t encountered the work itself. The computer’s knowledge of the street and its traffic is made of city plans, scans from specially equipped cars, road sensors, and data from geolocated phones of…

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Ben Werdmuller

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.