CTK Insights

28 May

Biochemical Algorithms and School Algebra

One part of the book The History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari I happened to read under unusual circumstances. Harari's first book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind has been translated into English and is #1 best seller in anthropology on amazon.

One of the theses that Harari promotes in his second book is that a human is a collection of biochemical algorithms and, as such, can, in principle, be studied on a formal basis through data collection and relevant behavioral database mining. Part of this - he points out - is already taking place. On login, amazon.com baits you with a collection of items bought by others with your shopping habits and tastes. google offers a number of gadgets to monitor your vitals that, when it comes to making food selection, are prepared to give you advice or even make that choice for you. Such gadgets are continuously online (to be able to keep their anti-virus software up-to-date), collecting, sharing, and analyzing the data which is essentially you. The bottom line is that Harari foresees the situation in which a robot may know you better than you ever may hope to know yourself. And certainly it may perform good many tasks - mental tasks, in particular - much better than you and for you.

The author discusses societal repercussions: some occupations will disappear. E.g., already now much of the banking and brokerage goes online; computer programs trade autonomously on financial markets, drive cars and fly planes. Our dependence and, more importantly, reliance on the programs will progress, and - in time - the programs will proffer advice or even make decisions vicariously. Examples included seeking advice which movie to see, which occupation to pursue and even who to marry.

I read this and wondered when the current education system - with its uniform standards - would catch the wind and transform into something less rigid. There is simply no way it may remain useful, nay even functional, unless it starts following the trend.


I did not mean to either review or retail the story. I found the book fascinating and hope it will be translated into English in the near future. Now, I return to the circumstances of my reading this biochemical algorithms stuff.

Last week I had my appendix removed, with a cumbersome complication. Some of my organs did not wake up after the general anesthesia. (Everything is OK now.) It was an unpleasant experience. I decided to check the components of the mix used by the anesthesiologist. Two of the six were described as "paralytic." A quick search on google revealed that "paralytic" actually was a designation for "muscle relaxant." So I asked a doctor why my innards were squeezed rather than relaxed. The response was because we poked you during the surgery. Now talk of the biochemical algorithms.

A relaxed amoeba is sunning up on a stone when a passer-by pokes it with a sharp object. What does the amoeba do? No supercilious thinking takes place.The poking activates a suitable built-in biochemical algorithm and amoeba constricts into a small portion of its relaxed size. It will take her a few days to begin trusting the humans again. During these days the doctors were watching it closely and were instructing the nurses to remove the relief tubes one at a time. At one point, having removed a tube, an RN told me that I have eight hours to demonstrate the salubrious effect that the tube had on my organs. Said she, "It is 10 am now, you have eight hours to do it. It's 10, 11, ...," and she began counting on fingers, "11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 - you have until 6 pm to show that things had worked for you."

You know, the nurses there did not appear to lack in intelligence. They carry out intellectually demanding jobs, most of the time sitting in front of networked computers or handling mobile devices. I did not dare to ask her whether or not she took an algebra course either in high school or a college. It was obvious that, even if she did, the powerful algebraic tools that were (and are) being peddled to students for their own good by the education establishment had little effect on her thinking or the excellent manner in which she carried out her duties.

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