Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘man-made systems

Is “Black Swan Theory” applicable to man-made systems?

Has anyone seen a swan (baja3) physically? In the flesh, or even flying or walking?  If you are asked “what is the color of a swan?” I bet your answer is “White, obviously”.  Actually, a black swan was identified a few years ago.  Is it possible to eventually identify a multicolored swan?

You might say that finding a black swan, or even a tribe of black swans, or a mixture of black and white swans stand to reason, but is it feasible to have a green, blue… swan?  You might respond that genetic engineering can produce whatever colored swan you desire as a pet…

Why do you think all of us believed that a swan must be white, and nothing but white?  Most of us have not seen a swan, except in pictures, movies or documentaries; we might not even be able to identify a swan from a duck if the bird is not named…

If even nature, which changes slowly and its trends can be mostly predicted, has the potential of surprising us with rare events, a few of them catastrophic.

We got in the habit of expecting frequent disasters from man-designed and man-made systems, within a few years of their applications and usage by people…

The variability in living creatures and the behaviors of users are a thousand folds more numerous than variability in nature.  Wouldn’t you be appalled in total disbelief to hear any designer of systems claiming that the product is definitely designed and manufactured to be entirely controlled and managed according to users’ satisfaction, safety, and health?

The teams of designers of many professions such as scientists, engineers, psychologist, legal professionals… are aware of two things:

First, there will be frequent minor malfunctions to the system in terms of financial loss, safety and health casualties, but these malfunctions can be controlled and fixed.

Second, any system contains rare catastrophic malfunctions that will eventually occur (doud al khal minho wa fih) and predicting these rare events is very challenging and out of control and management.  When you hear of economic-safety analysis trade-off of a system, bear in mind that the study concerns the number of casualties and the financial cost that owners (more frequently the State or the tax payers) will have to set aside for these calamitous eventualities.

The funny part is that:

First, no money is ever set aside by the private shareholders for these catastrophes and the States or tax-payers will eventually cover up the expenses.

Second, transparency and full disclosure to the general public is never disseminated widely, if ever published.

Third, the public and communities in most countries have no say in the design and decision-making processes of vast man-made systems.

Fourth, no man-made system has instituted an independent specialized and dedicated team responsible of gathering data and analysing statistics of the various malfunctions.  Most malfunctions are barely reported and serious hazardous events are dusted-off under the carpet:  No read, never happened!

Do you know that the UN agency for health is forbidden to collect and report statistics on nuclear disaster consequences?  That the atomic UN agency is not to share statistics with other UN agencies concerned with health and safety of world population?

Note 1: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a mathematician by formation wrote  “The Black Swan:  The power of the unpredictable” and “Savage hazard”.  Taleb was initially trying to explain the financial crisis since he is in the financial business.  The theory is fine and explains many fluctuations in man-made designs, for example the international financial system.

Note 2: This post is a re-edited version of the first part of a lengthy article related to claims that Black Swan Theory does not apply to the political/social structure in Lebanon

Intellectual harassment: TEDxSalon 3, in Beirut

August 25, 2011, 9:30 pm at Monroe Hotel, Beirut

The third TEDx saloon is the last before the one-day TEDxBeirut to be held in Berytech (Mansourieh) on Sept. 24.  In TEDxBeirut, 20 speakers will take the podium, among them many Lebanese speakers who were selected according to a strict selection process.  A candidate speaker had to submit a one-minute video. I did send my video. I was eliminated from further consideration.  I was not sent a notice or an explanation: I knew the result by reading the names of the dozen who were selected to go through the second phase. (I guess that video was not meant to judge on the relevance of the topic, but to screen those with potential to be coached without much trouble and trained in two sessions, or looking presentable and young enough, kind of “thirtysomething”).  As one of the first video submitter, I was entitled to a free entrance to TEDxBeirut.

To attend the third TEDxSaloon, you had to register on-line to reserve one of the 350 seats.  The session was well planned and organized, discussion session was eliminated to be replaced by the “game” of drawing your neighbor with a pencil.  (The beautiful Crystelle S sitting next to me was hard to draw: She had not a single facial defect to caricature, and my lousy, and ugly drawing was not explicitly an issue since I explained my case…) The technology applied was excellent and we witnessed the showing of the website live, the picture of the auditorium with audience raising their hands.  You can send comments and suggestions on that website….

The first speaker was a female in neuroscience (I cannot recall names, a certain Boyle).  She was 37 of age when she had a brain stroke in her left hemisphere. She recovered in 8.5 years from the stroke.  The surgeon removed the blood clot as she was experiencing Nirvana state of releasing her spirit… She explains:

“I felt a gripping pain, like eating ice cream, and the pain would subside briefly. I got on my treadmill and had the sensation that I had no body, that my body was decomposed into molecules…Time was out of the equation, it was no longer a factor: I was living the present, the moment.  I felt the energy field of the environment flowing through me, my sensory capabilities expanding, the notions of past and future were irrelevant…

I stepped into the shower and my left brain kicked in briefly saying: “Lady, you are in trouble…” My right hand was a stump and useless.  I tried to call my assistant and had trouble seeing the numbers.  Going through a thin stack of business cards took over 45 minutes. As I phoned the digits, I could recall the number I already pressed, and I used my stump of hand as a locator of the digit to be pressed.  I had this fantastic revelation that I am experiencing live a case of stroke, in all its minute details…

In the hospital, I felt kind of floating… She explained: “Our two brains are fundamentally separate with specific tasks.  The left brain functions in serial fashion using time, duration, recall, cause and effect reasoning…The right brain functions in parallel processing, receiving all the sensations, converging to perceiving the moment, the present…(read note 1)

The second speaker revealed that critical ideas, the Ereka syndrome, are: first, generated from close interactions and communication among peer professionals, the disorganized “coffeehouse gathering”, and second, the Ereka syndrome is basically the culmination of a long process:  The idea was clear and already formed, but lacked the proper model, example, framework, and mechanism  to gel.   The speaker gave the example of how the idea of GPS was generated as the first Soviet Sputnik was put in orbit in 1957…

The third speaker said that life is basically a play process, being creative in participating in games…Like a female chimpanzee grabbing the testicles of the male and both turning around in circle…

The fourth speaker warned against taking the habit of working on the laptop positioned on your lap.  Your testicles will experience local warming and the sperms will be debilitated.  For example, the Danish might witness demographic decrease if computer laptops are used extensively on their lap…

Note 1: I may conjecture from the experience of Boyle on brain that the individual susceptible to reach Nirvana state have their primitive brain still not entirely atrophied. They can , with training, work on the nerves to constrict the blood vessels to the left hemisphere and permit most of the blood to irrigate the right hemisphere, lighting up like a Christmas tree.  Isn’t what psychedelic drugs do?

Note 2:  I have listened to countless TED speakers and wrote many articles on specific topics.  I even wrote detailed summaries on many books that TED speakers published.  I realized that: First, speakers allotted more than 15 minutes to expand on their ideas, substantially conveyed adequately their concerns. Second, speakers with less than ten minutes were deemed “less famous” for that honor (sold less books or products or their institutions and enterprises were not worthy ten minute-talk). Third, speakers allotted 5 minutes were considered the intellectual tabloids:  They talk about their single idiosyncratic variable that explains complex man-made systems, are the jokers, the funny intermission break-time, and those selling their “unique” products that are very expensive to acquiring…

Restructuring engineering curriculum to respond to end users demands: Introspection(chapter #54)

In 1987 Alphonse Chapanis, a renowned Human Factors professional, urged that published Human Factors research papers target the practical design need of the various engineering disciplines so that the research data be readily used by engineers.  Dr. Chapanis was trying to send a clear message that Human Factors main discipline was to design interfaces between systems and end users and thus, research papers have to include sections directing the practicing engineers to the applicability of the results of the paper to design purposes.

In return, I find it appropriate to send the message that all engineering disciplines should include sections in their research papers orienting the engineering practitioners to the applicability of the results of their papers to the end users and how Human Factors professionals can judiciously use the data in their interface designs. 

As it was difficult for the Human Factors professional to send the right message to the engineering practitioners, and still has enormous difficulty disseminating the proper purpose and goals, it would be a steep road for the engineers to send the right message that what they design is actually targeting the needs and new trends of the end users.

As long as the various engineering curriculums fail to include the Human Factors field as an integral part in their structures, it would not be realistic to contemplate any shift in their designs toward the end users.

We know that man-made “Systems” would become even more complex and thus, testing and evaluation more expensive in order to make end users accept any system and patronize it.

Instead of recognizing from the early phases in the design process that reducing human errors and risks to the safety and health of end users are the best marketing criteria for encouraging end users to adopt and apply a system, we see systems are still being designed by different engineers who cannot relate to the end users because their training are not directed explicitly toward them.

What is so incongruous for the engineering curriculums to include courses that target end users? 

Why would not these curriculums include courses in occupational safety and health, consumer product liability, engineers as expert witnesses, the capabilities and limitations of human, marketing, psychophysics and experimental design?

Are the needs and desires of end users beneath the objectives of designing systems?

If that was true, then why systems are constantly being redesigned, evaluated and tested in order to match the market demands? 

Why do companies have to incur heavy expenses in order to rediscover the wheel that the basis of any successful design ultimately relies on the usefulness, acceptability and agreement with the end users desires and dreams? 

Why not start from the foundation that any engineering design is meant for human and that designed objects or systems are meant to fit the human behavior and not vice versa?

What seem to be the main problems for implementing changes in the philosophy of engineering curriculums?

Is it the lack to find enough Human Factors, ergonomics and industrial psychologist professionals to teaching these courses?

Is it the need to allow the thousands of psychologists, marketing and business graduates to find debouches in the market place for estimating users’ needs, desires, demands and retesting and evaluating systems after the damages were done? May be the Human factors professionals failed so far to make any significant impact to pressure government to recognize that they are part and parcel of the engineering practices.

And may be multinational companies should remind universities of the kinds of engineers they want.

I hate to talk, read, and write. Oh, and I hate math: Different teaching resolutions… 


I got this revelation. 

Schools use different methods for comprehending languages and natural sciences.  Kids are taught the alphabet, words, syntax, grammars, spelling and then much later, they are asked to compose essays.  Why this process is not applied in learning natural sciences?

I have strong disagreement on the pedagogy of learning languages. 

First, we know that children learn to talk years before they can read. Why kids are not encourage to tell verbal stories before they can read?  Why kids’ stories are not recorded and then translated into the written words to encourage the kids into realizing that what they read is indeed another story telling medium?

Second, we know that kids have excellent capabilities to memorize verbally and visually whole short sentences before they understand the fundamentals. Why don’t we develop their cognitive abilities before we force upon them the traditional malignant methodology?  The proven outcomes are that kids are devoid of verbal intelligence, hate to read, and would not attempt to write even after they graduate from universities.

Arithmetic and math are used as the foundations for learning natural sciences. We learn to manipulate equations; then solving examples and problems by finding the proper equation that correspond to the natural problem (actually, we are trained to memorize the appropriate equations that apply to the problem given!).  Why we are not trained to compose a story that corresponds to an equation, or set of equations (model)?

If kids are asked to compose essays as the final outcome of learning languages, then why students are not trained to compose the natural phenomena from given set of equations?

Would not that be the proper meaning for comprehending the physical world or even the world connected with human behavior? 

Would not the skill of modeling a system be more meaningful and straightforward after we learn to compose a world from a model or set of equations?  Consequently, scientists and engineers, by researching natural phenomena and man-made systems that correspond to the mathematical models, would be challenged to learn about natural phenomena. Thus, their modeling abilities would be enhanced, more valid, and more instructive!

If mathematicians are trained to compose or view the appropriate natural phenomenon and human behavior from equations and mathematical models then the scientific communities in natural and human sciences would be far richer in quality and quantity.




June 2023

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