Tuesday, December 11, 2007

gaming halacha

I had a monetary dispute with my neighbor (not the one we like) yesterday. He's Russian and not Orthodox, though he believes that he is religious in his own way. About a year ago he built a wall in between our properties without discussing it with me and then asked me to help pay for it. According to Jewish law, I am obligated to pay for a minimal fence that is acceptable in our neighborhood, so I offered to pay for that and he said that was fine. I was going to pay him in installments, so when I gave him the first installment, I brought a receipt for him to sign. He insisted that there was no need for formalities like that between neighbors and since we are both honest there is no need for it. I figured that since there is no record of me owing him any money, if I paid him and he said I didn't he doesn't have a case anyways, so I agreed in the name of neighborly relations.
I paid him 3 installments and owed him a little bit more and he came to me yesterday to see if I had it, and when I mentioned how much I owed him he thought it was much more. He said that they kept track and they have written down that I paid him twice and they have no record of a third payment. I told my wife and she remembered me coming home and telling her that now I only owe them a little bit more.
So I went back and told them that I only owe them what I thought I did and not as much as they thought I did. I told him that I paid them and the fact that they don't have a record of it isn't my fault. I also reminded them that I asked for a receipt and they refused so they can't complain that I am not paying what I said I paid. I honestly don't believe they are trying to cheat me, I think I gave them the money at an inconvenient time and they forgot about it. In the end we decided to split the difference. They're very upset because they believe I owe them more moeny and I'm upset because I know I paid and was stupid for not demading the receipt.

I was just thinking about how Jewish law would play into this. If we had gone to a Jewish court and I said I owe him a little and he says I owe him a lot then I would have to swear and pay him what I said I owed him. Today they don't make you swear so they would work out a compromise similar to what we workied out. However, I know the law. If I went to court, I would say I don't owe him anything, and then get off scott free and then I would pay him what I thought I owed him. In other words, because I learned Jewish law, I can game the system and he can't because he never learned Jewish law. That being said, anyone who spent time learning gemara would know that if he goes to court with a claim of partial owing that he is going to lose. He even knows the reasons behind it - people are not so brazen to say they don't owe anything when they owe something. They instead claim they owe a little bit to get them off the hook and then if they ever get money they will pay. Understanding that logic will present a problem to the court because now there is no psychology involved. I weill now be brazen and say that I don't owe anything because I know that if I don't, the system will take advantage of my honesty.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A matter of input

Recently I've been thinking about the decision making process in terms of freedom of choice as opposed to natural inputs that define your decisions. Freedom of choice, by definition, means that when you come to a decision point you can use your intellect, emotions, experience, randomity and whatever else you personally feel is relevant to actaully decide. Nobody is forcing you to make this specific decision and you can say that while logically A makes the most sense, I WANT to decide B. The problem is that it is impossible to have a completely objective view of any situation and the inputs you have received over the course of your life, including what you see as valid logic or valid emotional response might be something that other people see as illogical and/or an invalid emotional response. That means that your freedom of choice is severly limited by your experience. In other words, the more experience you have the less freedom of choice you have because your decision will be based very heavily on the inputs you have received over the course of your life. On the other hand, the less experience you have the more your decision becomes a factor of randomness and less a factor of real choice.

This indicates that true freedom of choice is very hard to come by, if it exists at all. Your choice is either a given (therefore not a choice) based on specific inputs or it is random which removes any value of having a choice. Unfortunately, this approach turns us into robots with a strong artificial intelligence module.

The question is, would it be possible for a machine, given 100% of a person's lifetime inputs be able to predict the choice correctly 100% of the time. As this is impossible to feed that into the machine, we will never know the answer.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

google and its discontents

First, there were the msn and yahoo search engines that seemed to have sold out to the advertisers. But as google overtook the motown auto industry in size, they too acquired a bad name in an information industry already humiliated by the consumer driven compuserve and aol. In the present era, collaboration has become the big word with consensus becoming more important than anything objective. Just like israrail, google's own success has become its greatest failure - in short, from producing the best hits to the hits that pay the most and/or that have gamed the engine the best in order to appear first. Information has become a second class citizen in an internet world financed by big business pr and advertising - call it seo for short. After all, it is only logical that the internet as the short tail of business should conquer the world, blinding it of anything real. Remember when consumer was king? That was before bill gates decided to play in the internet sandbox.

What's the solution? Let's use the same seo tricks and turn search on its head. Let's become enabled to search by comparing the types of search masks and phrases that produce the best results and then apply it specifically to what we want to find by gaming the game seo has been playing up to now. To do this, it would be advantageous to use the most perfect market of searches and results in the world i.e. google - but doing so by turning it inside out and upside down because, let's face it - google has become the biggest paid directory around. And anyway, microsoft had its day and then came open source; google has had its day and now comes change from it's disenfranchised.

Needless to say, if this can happen with google - then perhaps israrail will change for the better one day too ....