Technology and inference

In my previous post, I gave an example of how fake news could lead to a scenario of no update of posterior probabilities. However, this situation could occur just from the knowledge of technology. When I was a child, fantasy and science fiction movies always had a campy feel because the special effects were unrealistic looking. When Godzilla came out of Tokyo Harbour it looked like little models in a bathtub. The Creature from the Black Lagoon looked like a man in a rubber suit. I think the first science fiction movie that looked astonishing real was Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, which adhered to physics like no others before and only a handful since. The simulation of weightlessness in space was marvelous and to me the ultimate attention to detail was the scene in the rotating space station where a mild curvature in the floor could be perceived. The next groundbreaking moment was the 1993 film Jurassic Park, which truly brought dinosaurs to life. The first scene of a giant sauropod eating from a tree top was astonishing. The distinction between fantasy and reality was forever gone.

The effect of this essentially perfect rendering of anything into a realistic image is that we now have a plausible reason to reject any evidence. Photographic evidence can be completely discounted because the technology exists to create completely fabricated versions. This is equally true of audio tapes and anything your read on the Internet. In Bayesian terms, we now have an internal model or likelihood function that any data could be false. The more cynical you are the closer this constant is to one. Once the likelihood becomes insensitive to data then we are in the same situation as before. Technology alone, in the absence of fake news, could lead to a world where no one ever changes their mind. The irony could be that this will force people to evaluate truth the way they did before such technology existed, which is that you believe people (or machines) that you trust through building relationships over long periods of time.


2 thoughts on “Technology and inference

  1. In a way this is analogous to scientific peer review—eg you decide if a paper makes sense, is mathematically correct, of some importance etc. Voting based on public opinion about issues, evidence (news) etc. is a sort of peer review. Alot of science (at least for me) i cannot judge as to its logical consistancy, emprical and statistical validity, or relevance . A whole journal is dev oted to trying to replicate psychology papers with mixed success—and my reading of that literature is that too often it looks like a CV padding engine—-easily done , poorly thought out , trivial papers (small sample sizes, sometimes based on questionaires with quesdtions that look poorly worded and sortuh arbitrary—picked out of a hat–‘we sought to measure this’. ) See concept ‘WEIRD’ people . Behavioral economics seems similar—understand economic systems by polling ‘representative agents’— your grad student class.Sometimes this is backed up using alot of statistical analyses (which may not be muchn more sophisticated than using a calculator).

    I somtimes think other ways of choosing one’s ‘prior’ might be just use a random sample (what is called zero intelligence’ trading by crutchfield of sfi, or throwing darts). Or some maximum entropy one. Pick presidents by pulling numbers out of a hat.


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