Whew, first day of school down! So today’s test went pretty well. The questions didn’t ask for things which I’ve never heard before though there were a couple which caught me off-guard. Overall it seemed like it demanded for memory work more than anything else. People who spent days mugging their notes and the textbook would certainly be rewarded for their effort. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them so I guess I’d just have to wait and see how everything will pan out. My instincts tell me that I’m not going to do very well because I was bullshitting through a couple of questions, but I’m quite certain I’m not going to fail either. We’ll see.
Anyway, the day passed by pretty smoothly, except for the shock I had this afternoon after waking up from my nap. I woke up discovering that I was supposed to turn in an assignment for my probability modelling class that was going to start in 20 minutes. Rushing through the questions without putting much thought into them, while occasionally using some ‘help’ from the answers in the textbook, I managed to complete everything just in time, though I was only able to turn up for class half an hour after it started.
It’s funny how I kept thinking then about how irresponsible my tutors had been for not informing us about the assignment at all. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t fuming mad. In fact, I was pretty calm though a little annoyed since this kind of incident of missing out on assignments had happened to me quite a number of times before. Here in my school, assignments are normally uploaded online and most lecturers/tutors would take the courtesy to inform us as soon as they’re made available. Usually they’ll tell us in class, or at least make an online announcement on that ‘learning resource platform’ or whatever you call it, so that we know we need to get working.
A year ago, I took this physics class where I consistently missed out on most of my assignments because I was rarely aware that they even made available. No-one in the teaching team had told us anything about them, so I just assumed there was nothing to work on. It was only until the end of semester when I realized I missed out on a quite a number of them, in fact close to half of we were supposed to do. At that moment, I thought it was completely absurd and unfair that we students were not made aware of the work we were supposed to do, especially so when they count towards our grade. To cut things short, I wrote a strongly-worded but diplomatic complaint to everyone on the team, highlighting my displeasure while urging them to get their act together. However, I stopped short of requesting for any extension of deadlines for the assignments that I had missed or for any reassessment of the grading criteria, partly because I thought that they certainly would be very reluctant to do so. My original intention then was to simply make the problems that I had faced known, and I guess I didn’t really bother about anything else. Fortunately, I got a pretty good grade in the end, perhaps because the assignments didn’t really carry much weight to begin with, but nevertheless I enjoyed most of the it if not for the minor hiccups.
So, I guess you could see why I felt annoyed when the déjà vu came along today. To my surprise, my instincts proved me wrong when I found out that my lecturer did give some sort of a reminder about the assignment 2 weeks ago. My oversight’s to blame after all. I’m lucky I hadn’t done anything which could have made myself sound silly! On hindsight, it’s like a little reminder to not jump into conclusions (and actions)!
Going back to the class itself, I did feel bummed being late because the professor was actually doing something pretty interesting. She demonstrated how to model the game Monopoly using discrete time Markov chains, and analyzed which steps were theoretically the most frequented by players. Subsequently, she moved on to discussing about the set of properties/utilities which had the largest expected monetary return per opponent roll per dollar invested, which is pretty cool considering that most people or at least, us when we were kids, don’t ever think of mathematically modelling Monopoly to find out the most ‘valuable properties’ to purchase. Of course, modelling the game’s one thing, but simulating human behavior is another. Monopoly involves trade and human decisions, which can’t be easily modelled, or at least with the level that I am at. Often we have people making seemingly irrational decisions which can psychologically throw off other human players but I guess that’s another field altogether.
Another topic that we worked on was Google Search’s PageRank algorithm. We went through the basic idea of how webpages could be ranked by deriving the average proportion of time spent on a particular webpage with respect to the network of other webpages that are linked to it. Basically, the idea of this class was to see how applications of stochastic modelling could be used in real life applications and it was inspiring to see how the things that I learn are relevant to the world I live in. I’d love to try modelling some everyday process also, say, the buttons pressed on a calculator or on a phone? Would love to give that a try out some day when I’m free.
It’s running pretty late right now, so I guess I need to stop soon. Today’s been a great start for the second half of the semester; I’m starting to feel that I’m able to sit down and work on something without getting too easily distracted. I hope the coming days will be as productive and maybe I’ll be able to write a little bit longer when I no longer have the pressure of having to revise for my tests burdening my schedule. A week more to go!
Updated 28th Feb 2017 11.20 am: Just before I went to bed last night, I kept thinking if I had left something important out from my post – I was dozing off when I hit the last few paragraphs which you see above. And yes, there’s just this tiny bit which I thought was pretty interesting. It’s not some earth-shattering philosophical finding or life-changing realization, but it’s this excerpt from an essay which my friend read and shared on Facebook.
It basically attempts to explain why humans are so afraid of being taken over by robots or supercomputers, a situation not too different from what many science-fiction films and books have tried to portray. If I remembered correctly, the author claims that the society we live in, having prized intelligence so much and for so long, as seen from how many ‘top-spots’ are being occupied by the smartest people, has grown accustomed to the idea of being dominated by the most intelligent. As a result, if artificial intelligence were to outdo humans in this aspect, there would be this perceived threat of possibly being dominated by something nonhuman.
Well I thought it was pretty interesting that the author made such an interesting observation. Even without going into our fear of robots and such, it’s kind of true that in many aspects of society, we see some sort of obsession with having intelligent people leading the rest. In politics, it’s always about who’s most qualified to do the job (whatever that means), or in the business world, it’s usually about the one who has enough foresight to manage the corporation or company. Well, it’s possible to argue that many of those ‘leader-like’ characteristics are somewhat different from being intelligent in the exact sense of the word, yet it’s just as easy to group them together as some form of heightened mental capacity. So the thing is, is our modern society built upon a hierarchical structure founded on individual differences in mental capacity? Or is there a way to accept and put someone with relatively less advantage in that area to lead us forward? Would our strength in other faculties such as willpower or morality be equally worthy in justifying leadership?
I haven’t read the entire article yet so I haven’t got much to comment on what the author wrote, but that little excerpt sparked off a pretty interesting line of thought which I felt most people probably take for granted in the society we live in. I’d probably go back and look for the title and author of the article sometime later, and I think I’ll put up the link if I’m able to locate the article online. So yeah, that’s just something interesting I thought I wanted to note down so that I could look back at it in the future.