Learning from your mistakes (and why it's hard)

 I have often heard people say "It's okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them", other versions include  - those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it., and  Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it

The quote is a good reminder, that we improve both as individuals and as the human race by making mistakes, by failing. The best example of this was watching my children learn to crawl for the first time.  It is basically a trial and error process.  My kid gets up, tries to push forward a bit, and falls, tries again and..falls...and again...you get the idea.. until eventually, the child is now moving so fast around the house you barely have time to put gates up around the house for safety.

I fully admit I make mistakes, probably around a hundred or so before I even drink my first tea at breakfast, and I am very confident I have made the same mistake twice. Recognizing mistakes isn't really the problem - knowing how to prevent?, avoid? - keep them from repeating that is the problem.  If you have ever been through addiction recovery you may have heard the Portia Nelson poem - "There's a hole in my sidewalk". 


What's in a mistake?

I mentioned that recognizing the mistakes isn't really the problem, but this assumes you know what is the mistake.  In Portia Nelson's poem, the author continues to fall in the same hole again, and again, we could call this the mistake, because it is the undesirable effect of a set of decisions Portia has made, leading to habits of behavior which re-enforce these effects.  It takes nearly three chapters before 'her eyes are awake' - now she can 'see' the hole, recognize it for what it is, and take a pro-active action in the opposite direction. I believe it's safe to say that in the start - "it's not my fault", "how did I get into this?" the recognition of the mistake did not yet even exist..it takes 2 more chapters of the story before she ...takes a different road altogether.

Correcting mistakes    

Okay, so let us suppose you have identified the mistake, now you need to figure out what action to take to stop it, prevent it..but which action do you try.  If you are like most people you try the one that matches that "feeling in your gut", or perhaps follow the advice of a trusted friend.  We often don't take the time to think hard about it, we just 'do something' - hoping it is the "right" thing to do...sometimes this works (if we choose correctly), sometimes it works...for a time..and then stops, or causes new problems, and sometimes we look back and think "how foolish was I to have ever tried to fix the problem..that way"

Artificial Intelligence - The singularity 

All of these thoughts cross my mind as I head back from my morning walk, thinking about 'the singularity' - a notion often attributed to Ray Kurzweil.  Technological singularity is the notion that technological growth will eventually take on the ability to improve on itself without human intervention, this will result in machine 'super intelligence' which we exceed human intelligent and act in ways we mere humans cannot understand because it is far beyond our comprehension.

This theory, although the model for many dystopian science fiction stories, assumes the limit on improvement is the speed at which mistakes are recognized, and corrected.  As machines get faster and faster they will make faster and faster mistakes, have more and more corrections, some of which will work, some won't etc...but since it is going 'so fast' it will barely make a difference.

The problem (as I see it however) is that we do not truly know which corrective / preventative action is truly the 'right one', and to get there sometimes we humans destroy ourselves in the process.  We try something, we measure it, we decide to 'keep' or 'reject' it and we move on.

Faster machines, will undoubtedly lead to faster mistakes, but this does not appurtenant 'faster improvement' only 'faster change'..and not all change is good, and may of it causes the same mistake (the same hole) to be stepped in again and again


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