Tag Archives: ignorance

The Perils of Maths

This would be funny if it weren’t real. When I read this story I first thought it was a remake of the old joke about Al-Gebra (check out the link for a detailed history of this dangerous terrorist movement):

“At New York’s Kennedy airport today, a person later discovered to be a public school teacher, was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a drafting triangle, a compass, and a calculator.

During a press conference the Attorney General said he believed the man was a member of the notorious al-Gebra movement and the FBI intends to charge him with transporting weapons of math instruction. […]”

(from Weapons of Math Instruction, http://daryld.com/weapons-of-math-instruction/)

And there was another joke, about a postdoc from Iran flying to a conference and working last minute on his paper about “blowing up points on a plain”.

But alas. This week, a real mathematician, Guido Menzio of the University of Pennsylvania, recipient of the 2015 Carlo Alberto Medal for best Italian economist under 40, was questioned and removed from a flight because a fellow passenger thought that his differential equations were “in Arabic”, he was concentrating too hard, and suspiciously avoiding questions, and the flight attendants had to investigate the complaint.

Dr Menzio was brought back with an apology and the 40-minute flight did leave, with a 2 hour delay.

The whole story (written up with some good humour): https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/rampage/wp/2016/05/07/ivy-league-economist-interrogated-for-doing-math-on-american-airlines-flight/

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The problem with technological ignorance, or Don’t take your smartphone for granted

“When we, as a society, fail to appreciate the staggering complexity of our modern technologies, we don’t just lose a sense of awe toward what is around us. We lose a sense of what we as humans can build, as well as where we might fall short. It is impressive that people can build and grapple with these astonishingly complex systems at all, something we seem to neglect when we focus on the shortcomings of a technology, rather than its successes and the effort that has gone into it. For example, autocorrect is mostly known for its failures, but in fact it’s an amazing technical feat that dramatically improves text entry speed.
But related to this is something else: Recognizing the overwhelming complexity of our technologies makes it easier to see that bugs and glitches are essentially an inevitability. When anything becomes as complicated as Dijkstra describes, unanticipated consequences will arise. Baked into a proper recognition of the phenomenal complexity around us must also then be a sense of humility—our limits in the face of the technologies we have built—something that we need to acknowledge more and more.”

From “The problem with technological ignorance”, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2015/12/the_problem_with_technological_ignorance.html

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