Shorter decision cycles

So in the last Barcamp Singapore, there was a guy who talked about the (bleak) future of robotics in our lives. (I read somewhere there’s a bot that washes and massages your hair). He made a point that robots make building stuff faster and easier, for example, a 30-storey building in China could be built in days.

Because building stuff becomes faster and easier, decision making skills become more important.

An audience member commented the opposite, that because building stuff becomes faster and easier, decision making skills are less important (because you can always start over).

As with most complex issues, both answers are correct, under certain conditions.

In the long run, decision making skills are more important because the consequences of those decisions compound over time. If you never learn from your past decision mistakes, then compounding will eventually break you. You can start over, but you’ll never improve the quality of the sum total of your decision consequences.

In the short term, decisions might not be as important, since you can always start over. You either didn’t lose much money or much time.

However, consider the situation where there are 2 billionaires. Both decide to build multiplexes. Half-way through, the 2nd billionaire found out a mistake and decides to abort the project. Then he starts a new one (maybe build somewhere else).

Sure, the 2nd billionaire might be just days behind the 1st billionaire. That might not mean much.

But these are billionaires we’re talking about. If the 1st billionaire is astute, he would have already gained enough of an advantage that the 2nd billionaire would never catch up.

In the hands of the capable, even making just one more good decision is crucial.

Follow up on geodynamo idea

I toyed with the idea of using Earth as part of a gigantic dynamo to generate electricity previously. A few arguments were deliberately left out, to encourage you to think about it, and so that I’ll have something else to talk about here. *smile*

Jonathan didn’t think it will work. His argument was that the support structures in space won’t be able to hold (steady). And xero suggested using humans as generators. Let’s look at both of their comments.

Side effects of the geodynamo

Having a large part of the structure out in space should mitigate the gravitational pull of Earth. With some thrusters thrown in, the use of light-weight and strong material for the structure, the whole thing should work. I think.

I’m not so much concerned if it’ll work, but what happens if it does work. I’m concerned about the electromagnetic influence on marine life, on living things around the equatorial region. And most of all, I’m concerned if it will affect Earth’s rotational spin, that it will slow it even more.

As programmers, we seldom have to think about the consequences of our creations. We’re more concerned with making it work. The best examples I have right now are the social media tools, such as Twitter. The microblogging platform flourished, with consequences ranging from people complaining it’s a time-waster and productivity-drainer, to people using it as part of their business strategies, to connecting with people they would never have met.

But there’s a difference in enabling something waiting to happen, and something that’s not.

Mini dynamos. Thousands of them.

Instead of one gigantic monster of a generator, we could have thousands of mini dynamos. Human powered. The idea is to connect gym bikes to power generators. While we’re exercising, all that energy is lost, so we might as well generate some electricity.

I disagree with xero on paying people minimum wages to go exercise. Something gets optimised whenever an incentive is introduced, particularly if it’s monetary… and if you don’t agree with that, go talk to a manager. The ideal case is that people exercise because they want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and they want to help generate some alternative sources of electricity. Intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation.

On the thought of gym bikes, what about cars? We have many of them on the planet, and their wheels are spinning. And not really doing anything else.

Can we attach some power generating contraption to car wheels? If we’re burning fossil fuels to turn them, we might as well try to salvage something out of it. It wouldn’t totally negate the loss of energy (that’s almost like a perpetual motion machine), but we would waste less of it. It’s like those lights on bicycles that light up when the biker is pedalling.

Let me know what you think. And I still want my free electricity.

[If you’re Chinese, Happy Lunar New Year to you!]