Sunday, June 21, 2015

Machines can goof up too!

Kurt Gödel’s theorems's_incompleteness_theorems
are widely understood to imply that there are serious limitations to computer programs. Some misled people seem to believe that human thought is free of these limitations. Nonsense!

As developers create “smarter and smarter programs”, we will undoubtedly get a big collection of reports how bad programs can be. One type of program-bugs cause grievous accidents. They crash planes, make financial services companies go broke, kill people with overdoses of radiation, etc.

I will focus in this article only on how “stupid” programs can look, and cause us to laugh! Here is one report. My wife, an avid user of Android apps on her smart phones, recently installed Google Fit. This app counts how many steps she walks in a day and helps her manage her exercise target. Yesterday, she was quite puzzled because this app reported that she had cycled for 17 minutes, covering a distance of 2.3 KM. She has not touched a bi-cycle for years. So, where did the 17 minutes of cycling come in? After some analysis she figured out that she had been in an auto-rickshaw for 17 minutes at the time reported. I admire the programmer who tried to make his App figure out when the user is cycling by using data from the cell-phones accelerometers! It probably reports correctly when the user really cycles; but it makes a false report when the user gets on an auto-rickshaw!

Apart from laughing at the App’s mistake, we can laugh at all the tragic characters who have chosen to live in a city in which auto-rickshaws take 17 minutes to cover 2.3 KM!

I would also make a request to the Google Fit designer/developer: please stay away from development of robotic surgery equipment!  

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