“At one point, the drone was estimated to be approximately 98 feet from the passenger jet.”
“Estimated?” “Approximately?” 98 feet actually looks astonishingly accurate doesn’t it? Is someone having a laugh? No, not exactly; it’s just the sort of thing that happens when people do silly things with numbers.
We’ll come back to that one. For now, to get an idea of what’s going on, let’s take another example, adapted from Darrell Huff‘s magnificent How to Lie with Statistics …
Suppose you’re a would-be statistical researcher and you’ve decided to write something on how long people sleep. You’re going to talk to 100 people (which isn’t a huge number for a study but things have been published on less data) about it. And here’s where it starts to go wrong …
It’s 2030 and you’re not doing your old job any more because an AI machine can do it faster, cheaper and safer. How’s that working out for you?
But, first of all, let’s deal with some basic logic. How fair is this?
- Gavin: “Steve, what’ll we do for tea tonight if Mum’s not there to cook?”
- Steve: “Dunno. Ask Dad? Or make it ourselves? Or go down the chippy?”
- Gavin: “Steve, you’re an idiot. We won’t have do any of that because Mum will be there!”
Bit harsh on Steve, yes? He was only answering the question that was put to him. If their Mum wasn’t there, he had an idea of what could happen. He wasn’t asked whether he thought she might be.
Silly? Maybe. But that’s exactly what the economists and the right-wing press did to Professor Stephen Hawking a while ago on the subject of robot automation and unemployment.
The , er …, somewhat ‘unexpected political events’ of 2016 have meant that a few points of detail in the book have had to be rewritten! But there’s good news too …
Some, shall we say, not-entirely-predicted elections and other votes have produced a second edition rather earlier than expected! The storyline’s entirely unaltered and the changes in detail aren’t huge either but were necessary for global consistency. However, this has now also allowed Amazon’s direct publishing service to be used, resulting in significantly lower costs for both the paperback and Kindle edition. These cheaper, more up-to-date options can now be downloaded/ordered from:
Full details of all editions and formats can still be seen in The Book.