Science Fiction, The Feeling of Power, and Where are the Holes?

Science Fiction

When I was growing up, there as not a time when I did not have a book in my hands and reading. One of my favs was science fiction, another was the Civil War, and then the classics. I stumbled upon a short story about futuristic fighter pilots. The issue to the story being it was an even battle between to waring nations. No one could gain the upper hand as computers determined the tactics only to be countered by other computers. One pilot figured out how to counter the other sides tactics with a calculator and pads of paper and a pencil to which the opposing computer could not calculate a counter. Humans think freely and computers follow a routine. I looked for more of the authors stories and could not find more. I had thought I had a brief or preface to a longer story.

Instead, the search led me to Isaac Asimov’s science fiction and the story, “The Feeling of Power.” Enjoyable and too short for me to let my mind wander. It was from Asimov’s story, the other author had created his science fiction story.

The Feeling of Power . . .

In the distant future, humans live in a computer-aided society and have forgotten the fundamentals of mathematics, including even the rudimentary skill of counting.

The Terrestrial Federation is at war with Deneb, and the war is conducted by long-range weapons controlled by computers which are expensive and hard to replace. Myron Aub, a low grade Technician, discovers how to reverse-engineer the principles of pencil-and-paper arithmetic by studying the workings of ancient computers which were programmed by human beings, before bootstrapping became the norm—a development which is later dubbed “Graphitics”.

The discovery is demonstrated to senior programmer Shuman, who realizes the value of it. But it is appropriated by the military establishment, who use it to re-invent their understanding of mathematics. They also plan to replace their computer-operated ships with lower cost, more expendable (in their opinion) crewed ships and manned missiles, to continue the war.

Aub is so upset by the appropriation of his discovery for military purposes that he commits suicide, aiming a protein depolarizer at his head and dropping instantly and painlessly dead. As Aub’s funeral proceeds, his supervisor realizes that even with Aub dead, the advancement of Graphitics is unstoppable. He executes simple multiplications in his mind without help from any machine, which gives him a great feeling of power.

Another story gets closer to what I am saying.

Where are the Holes? Taken from Bullet Holes.

Excerpt from “How Not to Be Wrong.”  Jordan Ellenberg in brevity!

“When we made recommendations,” W. Allen Wallis, the director, wrote, “frequently things happened. Fighter planes entered combat with their machine guns loaded according to Jack Wolfowitz’s (Paul’s dad)recommendations about mixing 5 types of ammunition, and maybe the pilots came back or maybe they didn’t. Navy planes launched rockets whose propellants had been accepted by Abe Girshick’s sampling-inspection plans, and maybe the rockets exploded and destroyed our own planes and pilots or maybe they destroyed the target.”

So here’s the question. You don’t want your planes to get shot down by enemy fighters, so you armor them. But armor makes the plane heavier, and heavier planes are less maneuverable and use more fuel. Armoring the planes too much is a problem; armoring the planes too little is a problem. Somewhere in between there’s an optimum. The reason you have a team of mathematicians socked away in an apartment in New York City is to figure out where that optimum is.

The military came to the SRG with some data they thought might be useful. When American planes came back from engagements over Europe, they were covered in bullet holes. But the damage wasn’t uniformly distributed across the aircraft. There were more bullet holes in the fuselage, not so many in the engines.

It is pretty obvious; the fuselage should be the reinforced with more armor. Except the sample was taken from planes which returned. What happened to the planes which did not return?

The armor, said Wald, doesn’t go where the bullet holes are. It goes where the bullet holes aren’t: on the engines due to the numbers of planes not returning.

Wald’s insight was simply to ask: where are the missing holes? The ones that would have been all over the engine casing, if the damage had been spread equally all over the plane? Wald was pretty sure he knew. The missing bullet holes were on the missing planes.

The reason planes were coming back with fewer hits to the engine is that planes that got hit in the engine weren’t coming back. Whereas the large number of planes returning to base with a thoroughly Swiss-cheesed fuselage is pretty strong evidence that hits to the fuselage can (and therefore should) be tolerated. If you go to the recovery room at the hospital, you’ll see a lot more people with bullet holes in their legs than people with bullet holes in their chests. But that’s not because people don’t get shot in the chest; it’s because the people who get shot in the chest don’t recover.

My $.02

Mind you, I am a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt which I attained in 2008 while amongst a room full of engineers. We were out of work and the state paid for the training. This I found to be advantageous to do as it added to the attractiveness of employing me and expanded on my statistical application knowledge base.

I m a lowly MA who worked in supply chain and knew lead times were often rife with too much time due to safe planning, inventory safety stock, material flow in manufacturing, just in case, etc. I am very much at home on the shop floor. If you understand your supply base, your shop floor, and your customers; you can draw the right conclusions better than a computer which is rigid in solutions.

It is not the first-time computerization has been applied. With the creation of MRP by Oliver Wight and Walter Goddard, people within companies were able to strategize demand against inventory and production capacity. Rudimentary in design, it was the beginning of systematic planning of product. The simple design led to advanced capabilities. The overriding factor in the system was human intervention. People still had to review and approve the input and output.

Yep, AI is coming to town. Get ready for the circus. Human intervention is still needed because AI will not think like humans or interpret correctly.