Is Mathematics On A Tyrannical Global Rampage?

Woke to find the Globe and Mail website wondering: “Is math replacing independent thought?” (They’ve moved on to other topics, but my screen cap is to the left.)

Headlines like that really irk my wife, a math prof at the U of R. Her response: “Clearly, whoever wrote that doesn’t know anything about math.”

The article, as it turns out, is about the algorithms behind things like Google searches, automated stock trading and dating sites. But it’s not the most informative tech article I’ve ever read. It doesn’t go into too much detail about how those algorithms work. Instead, it hand waves the math away, explaining it’s like a black box no one really understands, then spends four pages whipping up hysteria over how computers are replacing human decision makers in various fields.

As far as the writer’s concerned, computer algorithms are as virulent as gray goo and the next step toward a cybertotalitarianism indistinguishable from the dystopias of sci-fi. We’re all in danger of becoming uncreative drones, he wails (all the while ignoring the fact that all those algorithms are written by creative and imaginative people).

Have to admire the writer’s skills of a journalist. Science and technology writing can be so dully scientific and technological sometimes. It’s nice when you can find an apocalyptic angle to really sell it.

Meanwhile, also up for discussion in today’s Globe, Margaret Wente asks “Can environmentalism be saved from itself?” (another of her climate denier pieces) and Karen Von Hahn declares “It’s official: Feminism is out of style.”

You know, I just don’t like this shiny new Globe and Mail. Now that they’ve ditched Salutin and Southey, I see little reason to trust it for commentary on anything.

As for the math article, Zach Weiner, the cartoonist behind Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, offers some sage advice that the Globe’s headline writers should pay attention to….

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

6 thoughts on “Is Mathematics On A Tyrannical Global Rampage?”

  1. And you didn’t capitalize “holy”. You know, as a contributor to this blog you have the power to edit your comments, eh?

    Also, if we’re going to use meaningless Jungian metaphors Saskatchewan is extroverted up the wazoo these days.

  2. It’s funny, once I fobbed my 6 in the Morning off on Brotheridge I pretty much stopped reading the Globe and Mail. I mean, I still check the headlines every morning but I find I usually can’t be bothered to click through and read the stories unless I have blurbs to come up with.

    Thanks James! You’re saving me from having to read our nation’s newspaper of record!

    Glad to hear Southey’s coming back though. Why’d she go away and come back then?

  3. I can’t find the notice of Southey’s alleged impending return to the Globe. I think I saw it on Twitter…
    But I did just learn that she used to be married to Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall!

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