Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

“I’m sorry, but I’m married …”

Monday, March 5th, 2007

As I enjoy going out with friends and mingling a lot, I noticed a very interesting trend lately. Some of my single friends will go and chat up some woman they find attractive (and sometimes with success) and if the woman is not interested, she will tend to show them a ring on her finger and tell them that she unfortunately is taken. So far, so good. I was out with some friends of mine. We were just talking and observed some gentleman asking a woman out right of the bat. She showed her ring and politely turned the guy down. Chris ended up talking to this lovely lady later – we all met as part of some group going out, and Chris and she had a longer conversation. After a long conversation, lots of laughter she excused herself for a minute. Once she came back from the bathroom, her ring was gone. He didn’t notice it at first, but as she suddenly became a lot more flirty, he asked her about it straight up. Her answer: “It’s a fake ring. Just to keep guys in bars from hitting on me.” They talked for a bit more about this and that, and she started hinting more and more that she would be very interested in going on a date with Chris. He thought about it, and walked away. Chris told me later that he just does not like to date woman that lie; trust and honesty are important to him. His reasoning was that if she is willing to lie (or: use little “white lies”) right from the start, how can one expect that it does not get worse over time? What if she uses little white lies to get out of every situation she does not want to be in?

What do we learn from this? A fake wedding ring might keep all the drunk loosers away, but will possibly confuse or scare off Mr. Right when he comes along. I’ve heard similar stories from a couple of other guys; it just does not go over well.

Online Dating

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

As I’m currently visiting Germany over the winter break, I couldn’t help but notice the advertising for an online dating website here. They spend a lot of money to get this stuff into peoples heads here. I’ve seen some of that stuff advertised in the US (such as match.com and TRUE) so for the hell of it I went and checked out the website. First thing I noticed is that they require you to create an account to see peoples pictures or browse more than a couple of pages in the search results. That, of course, leads to many many stale profiles from people that just want to window-shop and are not really interested in giving it a serious try. To interested parties (i.e. people that pay) this of course might look like there are so many members on the website that it might be worth paying for.

It just helps add to my impression after reading about Bad Experiences with canceling accounts, which gives a not-so-honorable mention to certain US based dating websites. Apparently you can’t just cancel your membership using the website, but have to take a phone-exit interview. Otherwise, your profile will be kept and your credit card will be continue to be charged. It seems that dating websites are forced to keep people active as long as possible (or at least keep up the illusion). The reason for this might be less mean-spirited than one would at first assume. For example, just to have a couple of thousand people in each major city of the US a dating website would have to have roughly 100.000 active members. That is tough to accomplish, esp. given that without the illusion of activity nobody else would join.

With all that said, a friend of mine found his girlfriend through the Denver Personals on Craigslist. It can work.

Ensemble Predictors and Democracy

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

I just read an interesting article about how society is usually described in science fiction. Turns out that in all circumstances it is about a very hierarchical, military like structure. There are no suggestions as to how a civilian society might work in the future. Consider things like Star Trek where a bunch of officers command a star ship around and the rest of the people just function. The captain is smart, benevolent and there is rarely an abuse of power. No democracy, no voting, little about how the civilian society of the future might function. There are things like Futarchy, but that’s pretty much all I could find in a quick search (and it wasn’t proposed in a SciFi-novel so it can’t be any good 🙂 ). One of the problems with Democracy might be that people don’t always make the right decision as they don’t have access to all the information or are easily swayed by bad arguments (e.g. negative ads – some of them are just factually wrong). My point is that there haven’t been that many viable alternatives proposed, not even some crazy, outlandish suggestions (think teleportation for means of transport) to give people some new ways to think about this.

There is an interesting book out there called The Wisdom of Crowds. It proposes that large crowds of people can be capable of making decissions better than individuals. Long story short, according to the book four key qualities are necessary to make a crowd smart. The crowd needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It must not have somebody at the top dictating the crowd’s answer, and summarize people’s opinions into one collective verdict. The people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks (i.e. being immune to persuasion concepts like social proof).

Random Forests in machine learning are an ensemble method that has very good classification performance. The way it works is that hundreds of decision trees are build, but each on a different training set and with a different choice of features. If all the classifiers are strong (i.e. not able to make perfect predictions, but they tend to do the right thing – they take the information they have and make independent decisions) , then the overall vote of all the trees in the ensemble will tend to minimize the misclassification error. Breiman gave a mathematical proof of why this minimizes the classification error (i.e. bad decisions).

I wonder if something like this might work for political decision making. Leaving problems like corruption and other human fallacies (e.g. looking at what others are doing) aside for a moment and assuming that for all things there are good arguments to be made for and against a bill, a senators vote would depend on how he or she weights the particular arguments for and against the bill. If we assume that senators tend to vote for what they perceive to be the right thing, would giving each senator a random subset of information make the overall senate vote for the “right thing”? Another idea would be to make a political decision, similar to jury duty, by picking a large number of people from the general population at random and have them decide on a particular issue.
Edit:I found some criticism of the Wisdom-of-Crowds theory, such as Wikipedia not being accurate enough or a democracy electing people like Hitler. A good question in both cases would be if people made their decisions independently in these cases or not. I think that independent decisions are difficult to achieve in practice. Also one has to wonder how robust this system is due to the assumption that everybody makes the best decission they can.

Perception of Beauty / Advertising

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

I just found this video on YouTube. Check it out. All I can say is “wow”.

Edit: A parody of the video is very funny…