Monthly Archives: January 2017

Two common beliefs that are problematic

It’s Friday morning, so time to take issue with two common beliefs:

1. “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise people so full of doubts.”

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In fact, numerous studies have shown that all people, including the wisest people in the land, tend to overestimate their abilities. You can see this in economic forecasters’ statements (see the financial crash and the post-Brexit-vote recession that was predicted to have started by now), journalists’ predictions (see Trump’s election, Cameron’s majority, Brexit), and politicians’ understanding of the world (both Cameron and Farage said that remain would win easily for example).
These are some of the most intelligent people in the land and they frequently get things wrong. A more accurate version of the above quote would be:
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and so are (comparatively) wise people, who are also frequently wrong, and some of whom have more exposure.”
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Studies to back this up:
Cognitive Sophistication Does Not Attenuate the Bias Blind Spot
The Trouble with Overconfidence
Overconfidence in case-study judgements

2. “Liberals are knowledgable, conservatives are ignorant”

When liberals and conservatives were asked what one another thought on different issues, liberals were worse at predicting what conservatives thought than vice-versa. People with more extreme positions on both sides tended to be less accurate than those closer to the centre.
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In fact, liberals frequently fail to understand the moral basis of the positions of conservatives altogether.
Conservative MPs are bad at predicting the chance of tossing two heads if you toss a coin twice, but Labour MPs are considerably worse.
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This does not mean that liberal ideas are necessarily wrong or that conservative ideas are necessarily right, of course, and this does not mean that conservatives know more about public policy-relevant issues. But it means that (when it comes to understanding the morality of the other side at least) one should not assume that someone is smarter or better informed because they call themselves a “liberal”.
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Updated Free Interactive Story – Jaguar

Happy new year! This is an especially happy time for you, because you can download an entirely revamped thoroughly improved interactive story. And it’s completely free! And it’s playable on PC, Mac or any smartphone!

So what is Jaguar? I’ll try not to spoil it for you, but suffice to say, it’s got intrigue. It’s got action. And it’s got politicians swearing their heads off. If you want to find out any more then download it and give it a go!

Now, before you play Jaguar, I just want you to know, I make these free interactive experiences out of love for you. But I also need your feedback, so I can learn how to make better interactive stories in future.

So please, when you’ve played the game, spare a second to send me feedback at mungotattonbrown at gmail dot com, or on Facebook, or via Twitter.

Play the new and improved version of Jaguar here!

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Play Jaguar here. For this beautiful cat.

Trump is a Centrist and Everybody is Wrong

“I have never considered myself right, left or center. On some issues, such as law enforcement, I do sound like a Birchite: and on others, more like Fidel Castro after two quarts of Appleton’s rum.” – these are the words of Truman Capote, the great novelist, spoken in 1968. The Birchites were an advocacy group that argued the civil rights movement was a communist movement. Was Capote mad? No. Was he unusual? To an extent, but not nearly so unusual as he may seem to political pundits.

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Truman Capote looked a bit like British actor Toby Jones

The views of a typical member of the public, like the views of Truman Capote, are a long way from those of a typical UK MP. Polling shows that most Labour voters want less immigration than current levels and an overwhelming majority want tougher restrictions on immigration. Most Liberal Democrat and Labour voters support an oath of integration for immigrants, and most Lib Dem and Labour voters think prisoners should not have the vote. 72% of Labour voters support changing rules so NHS treatment is only available for people who have lived in Britain for at least a year.

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Even the reds oppose immigration.

At the same time, 85% of Conservative voters and 81% of UKIP voters think mental illness is as serious as physical illness. 64% of Conservative voters support a ban on colourful cigarette packaging, and more Conservative voters support a mansion tax on houses worth more than £2 million than oppose one. A third of Conservative voters would prefer to live in an economy with a more even distribution of wealth, even if that meant there was less wealth to go around.

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Artist’s impression.

What’s going on? Why are Labour voters so right wing and Conservative voters so left wing? Well, what you’re seeing is the dislocation between the spread of political opinion in the country and the spread of political opinion in parliament.

The swing voters who decide most elections are not half way between Ed Milliband and David Cameron. Typical swing voters hate immigration and love the NHS. They think the EU is undemocratic and they want top banker CEOs to be in jail. There are differences between voters of different parties – mainly on the economy (which voters care a lot about), and foreign intervention (which voters care comparatively little about). The broad progressive vs conservative division you see in the news and parliament is not particularly helpful as a tool for understanding the public.

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Caption competition.

This leads to three conclusions.

1. If you don’t look at polls or focus groups you don’t know what the public thinks

If you have regular exposure to me you are probably highly educated, socially liberal and/or young and the people you hang out with are probably highly educated socially liberal and/or young. We tend to connect with people who are similar ages, sexes, professions etc. One thing that has changed in the past 20 years or so is it is much easier to connect and form groups with like-minded people. As a result, you have plenty of people you can talk to about Dungeons and Dragons or skydiving or indie computer games (or whatever floats your boat), which is great. But you also tend to connect with people who have similar interests and similar beliefs.

This can be resolved to an extent by looking at polling data, to an extent by considering what the opposite viewpoint might be when reading an article, to an extent by actively reading and listening to people you disagree with, and to an extent by having conversations with members of the public from a totally different demographic than your in-group. It cannot be resolved completely. Neither I nor you, nor Theresa May, nor Stephen Hawking will have a hugely accurate understanding of what the public is thinking. Accept and ingest this.

Side note – “the polls are always wrong” will not save the left

A lot has been said about the inaccuracy of polls. I may go into this more later, but the short response is that the polls are inaccurate, but they tend to be inaccurate in a fairly predictable way – the public is between 1 and 7 points further to the right than the polls present, usually about the 3-3.5% mark. This is what I have observed in the UK, and at a glance this seems to hold up in the US. (Please correct me if I am wrong here). The polls (especially with the caveat that they have a left-wing bias) are almost always a hell of a lot more accurate than the alternative. The EU referendum polling showed a narrow remain lead in the end, and what happened was a narrow leave win. They showed a narrow Conservative lead, leading to a possible minority administration in the 2015 election, and what happened was a narrow Conservative majority. If you take into account their left-wing bias, they could actually be used to guess the outcome nearly spot on.

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2. Trump is closer to the centre than you think

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Once you get a partial understanding of what the public believe, and what the public think is important, you begin to have a better understanding of how someone like Donald Trump can win over former Obama voters. You begin to understand why “Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week” was a winning message across the spectrum in the referendum on EU membership. Trump is often characterised by the left as a far-right figure, way outside of conventional political opinion. Perhaps he is – in Westminster, or on your Facebook news feed. But much of his platform fits with the broad sweep of American public opinion. Americans oppose both immigration and free trade. They want lower taxes and they want economic recovery for the working class. Americans want to Make America Great Again. On one of the biggest issues of his campaign – trade – Trump is and was to the left of the mainstream Republican establishment.

The centre of public opinion in the US and the UK (and possibly across the globe) is not half way between progressivism and conservatism. It is more accurately described as nationalist. It puts citizens and long-term residents first. It makes foreign policy about national interest. It’s tough on crime, and tough on terrorism. It says immigration should be low and controlled. But it’s also sceptical of globalisation, and supports effective public services (and sometimes the taxes that pay for them).

3. Everybody is Wrong

As an exercise, I want you to do a few things:

  1. Guess what the public thinks on some issue. One you haven’t seen polling data for before. Maybe an approval rating. Or voting intention. Write down what you think they think before you look it up. Then look it up. Do this a few times and be strict with yourself about not looking up the issue before. If you’re stuck for things to look up in the UK, read a few articles about a political party in another country and then make a guess on them.
  2. Guess what the odds are on something. Odds on betting sites are based on what people put their money on so they (to an extent) reflect public opinion. Write down your guess and check it against the odds.
  3. Actually make a bet or a prediction that can be falsified. Write this down somewhere. Give it a time scale. Make a note in your diary to check back against this afterwards.

If you do this regularly, you will soon find that there is only an extremely narrow range in which you have any reliable knowledge, if at all.

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Repeat this to yourself. Everybody is wrong.

People you disagree with?

Everybody is wrong.

People you agree with?

Everybody is wrong.

Your favourite idols?

Everybody is wrong.

Me?

Everybody is wrong.

You?

Everybody is wrong.

I have highlighted a tiny area (public political opinions) in which I believe I am less wrong than most. But on almost everything I don’t have active expertise in or verifiable data, I will be wrong. And I will probably be quite confident that I’m right, because I’ve read about it and seen it on the news and talked to Facebook friends about it. Let’s repeat that again.

Everybody is wrong.

Everybody is wrong.

Everybody is wrong.

If you want to play a computer game that I believe to be amazing based on what my Facebook friends have said, then check out Marketforce!

Munganism – The Philosophy of Mungo

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-16-19-37Here are a few of my beliefs. Yes, I realise this is a narcissistic thing to do, but you guys keep feeding me with likes and love hearts.

  1. Nobody has any idea of what might happen tomorrow, or a year from now. Most of our conversations are after-the-fact explanations.
  2. These include mine.
  3. Clever people are often wrong in worse ways than stupid people because they are more confident.
  4. This includes me.
  5. Reason is generally used not to discover profound and meaningful truths but to explain and rationalise what our emotions have decided.
  6. This includes mine.
  7. No matter what one believes about human rationality, one is almost always less clued up than one thinks.
  8. Human beings are naturally prejudiced. Not being prejudiced is a learned process.
  9. The right generally understand the left better than the left understand the right.
  10. Often our beliefs about whether someone is making a good argument are significantly influenced by how much we like them.
  11. Our memories are incredibly unreliable.
  12. Believing any of the above does not resolve any of the above.
  13. There is no God.
  14. It is perfectly possible to believe all these things and be happy most of the time.
  15. Yes, I said I was clever above, well done, you win the prize.
  16. I can give explanations and justifications for any of this if you need me to.
  17. If you want a deeper understanding of Munganism, check out my free-to-download game, Marketforce!

How to Simulate Reality

Today I am going to talk to you about how to create a convincing and effective simulated reality.

realityHow can you make the experience as rich and engaging as possible? Suppose you were tasked with creating an experience that felt completely “real”. What would it be like?

“Reality” is a notoriously difficult thing to define, so instead of trying to come up with a definition, I’m going to list a few examples of elements that I think would contribute to a convincing simulated reality, and see what you think.

THE OBSERVER

This may seem obvious, but nothing ever seems real except to someone. Otherwise who is going to consider it to be real at all?

SENSES

Observers within the reality must be able to experience it in order to be conscious of it. A visual field, for example, creates a sense of located-ness. Filter in audio through two different receptors and the observers will be able to orient themselves effectively. Give users a sense of up and down and add legs to the bottom of the visual field.

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INTERNAL COHERENCE

This is absolutely vital. The user must experience a complete representation, even when senses are in conflict or sense data is unavailable.

For example, the ambiguous image below should give a general sense of being either a profile or a portrait shot, possibly switching between the two, depending on where in the image the user is looking. (The image may appear most consistently to be a portrait at the ear, where most data conforms to this, and most consistently to be profile at the nose, where most data conforms to this.)

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In the below image, simulated-reality sense machines are likely to indicate that the top moon is larger than the lower one, as they use simple and predictable (but unreliable) heuristics to simulate perspective.

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Internal coherence also means input from one sense device may impact on data from another – for example, not just the feeling but the sound of a crisp may contribute to a user’s perception of crunchiness.

EXTERNAL COHERENCE

If reality is going to seem real then it should follow some kind of logic, explicable to the end user. Simple, consistent rules such as “objects continue to move in a straight line unless acted upon” or “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” contribute to the feeling of realness. Users can then become familiar with these rules and be reassured by their understanding of them.

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The rules of a simulated reality only need to be simple and consistent on the scale they are generally going to be experienced within, so do not waste valuable resources on easily comprehensible laws for subatomic particles or universe-scale phenomena.

DOWNTIME

Current-gen hardware isn’t perfect and needs to be cleaned and reset regularly to function. Make the reality seem extra-authentic by incorporating downtime into the simulated consciousnesses within. Regular sleep-cycles are the most efficient way to do this.

Sleep is the perfect time to test out the sense receptors, replace malfunctioning parts, organise and compress memory and install software updates.

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Side point – most sense receptors work on a “predictive” model –  visual fields and audio inputs fill in blank areas automatically with approximately-accurate guesses when central data is unavailable. This allows a dramatic reduction in load for the main simulation hardware, and is the reason for phenomena such as blind spots and change blindness.

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Whilst in a simulated reality, cover your left eye and look at the dot on the left. Move your face closer and further from the dot. At some point you should see the cross disappear. Stay at that point and close your right eye. Stare at the cross and the dot should disappear. Software engineers are still working on this glitch.

It can also lead to curious results. They can end up “cycling” if left on while the main simulation hardware is sleeping, endlessly producing predictions based off predictions, producing bizarre, surreal and nonsensical experiences for the user.

NON-USER CHARACTERS

A surefire way to expose the inaccuracies of your simulation is to leave a single user completely alone within it for an extended period of time. They are liable to notice inconsistencies and inadequacies, and have been known in some cases to damage critical coherence-generating data software through over-analysis.

Populate the reality with a varied cast of non-user characters (NUCs) that the user can interact with and relate to. As far as possible they should be programmed to behave in a similar way to actual users, but giving much more credibility to the notion that theirs is an entirely real reality.

These NUCs provide vital entertainment and stimulation, and draw the user’s attention away from perceptual errors like those highlighted above.

IDEOLOGY OF UNIQUENESS

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Unfortunately, all currently available simulated realities only offer the perspective of one character. As a result, early testers found years-long sessions to be crushingly dull.

To compensate, build into the ideology of the NUCs within the simulated reality the idea that being only one character is actually a good thing. Have them fetishise uniqueness and “being yourself” in their stories and wider culture. In addition, make them all appear to suffer the same sense of low-level isolation as the user. This helps justify the listlessness of the user, even if it does not explain or resolve it.

HUMOUR

In-jokes are not necessary in simulated reality, but they are common in all the most commercially successful ones. Why not follow the lead of the giants? For example, put into the simulation a film about a simulated reality, and for extra laughs make it comically unconvincing and obviously implausible.

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Why not set your simulated reality at a time when virtual reality is becoming just about economically viable?

You can even put in NUCs who believe themselves to be simulations, but don’t add too many or they will break the immersion.

COMMON ERRORS

Below is a list of errors that most observers undergoing extended simulated reality will have experienced at some point.

  • Sudden, unexpected, vivid, and nervous recall of a previous memory state
  • Discovery that there is a sock in one’s trousers an hour after one put them on
  • Persistent, low-level feeling that one is a fraud
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Don’t worry, the NUCs don’t feel like they’re frauds. They don’t feel anything.

  • Delusion that one has undiscovered talents
  • Desire to be able to save, load, and undo “in real life”
  • Unexpected sex-fantasy upon receiving a text from someone who hasn’t texted before
  • Deliberate breaking off of a conversation one is enjoying in order not to appear needy
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I’ll text him back later.

  • Guilt-tinged replay of previous conversation accompanied by tension in neck
  • Music fragments trapped on loop in memory
  • Dreams about teeth
  • Dreams about driving
  • Dreams of violence
  • Seemingly uncaused thoughts about sex [these may be the result of viruses]
  • Text messages accompanied by smiling and euphoria

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  • Occasional personal revelations that seem profound yet become disappointing upon explaining
  • Happiness punctured by a gut-led recollection that one is never going to see that particular person again

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

The hardware, network and staff resource requirements for a full simulated reality are immense. As a result, all but the tiniest simulated realities will fail in many ways, repeatedly. Devices will lose contact with one another, become corrupted, or simply break and have to be fixed on-the-fly.

Most simulated realities incorporate causal explanations for these failures, such as earthquakes, diseases, famines, NUCs being malicious or misinformed and so on.

Numerous studies have been made about the best way to approach the “problem of evil” as it is called, but this remains one of modern engineering’s unresolved technical problems.

Below is a non-reductive and non-exclusive list of within-simulation explanations that may be used to explain the problem of evil.

  • The simulated reality is the result of random physical laws, which are indifferent to the suffering of its inhabitants
  • Evil is a result of the “free will” of the simulation’s inhabitants
  • The simulated reality is the product of an evil creator who wants his or her denizens to suffer
  • The simulated reality is the product of an indifferent creator who does not consider the problem of evil to be a problem
  • The beings with power over the simulated reality are in conflict and evil is a product of that conflict
  • Pain and failure are the result of an ongoing process of evolution by natural selection

Side note – “Evolution by natural selection” fittingly resembles Agile software development practice, with endless iterations and improvements. If you replace “plan” with “mutate” (and what is a plan if not a mutation of a previous plan?) then the analogy is nearly perfect. The only difference is that in software design, less thought is applied to each iteration.

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SUMMARY

Whilst it is difficult to define what a simulated reality is, the following are likely elements in a comprehensive one:

An observer
Senses
Internal coherence
External coherence
Downtime
Non-user characters (NUCs)
An ideology of uniqueness
Humour
Common perceptual and experiential errors
The problem of evil

If all these elements are present, the simulated reality should appear fairly convincingly real.

P.S. If you’re interested in a simple simulated reality, why not check out Marketforce!? It’s a free PC game made by yours truly.

Random sexy spotlight: Yvonne Craig

This is Yvonne Craig, she was the original batgirl in the camp and ridiculous 1960s original batman series

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She was quite fetching. According to Wikipedia she was a philanthropist and advocate for workers unions, free mammograms, and equal pay for women.

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She was also a sexy green alien in the camp and ridiculous 1960s original Star Trek series.

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Here she is awkwardly backing away from Elvis Presley in a film neither of us have seen.

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If you want to awkwardly back away into more camp and ridiculous fun, then watch this space. A random sexy (game-related) update will be coming soon!