Tag: Hubris

Rob Long’s Data-Driven Utopian Dream

 

In the first 15 minutes of the latest Ricochet podcast (Episode #483), Rob said a couple of things that caught my attention. At one point, when talking about our communication- and data-centric technical culture, he suggested that the answers to all our big problems were probably in the wealth of data we’ve collected.

What came to my mind when he said that was the movie WarGames (1983), in which a wayward defense computer is discouraged from initiating Armageddon when it crunches the numbers and concludes that there’s no way to win a nuclear war. Setting aside the question of whether or not that’s a correct conclusion (and I recently re-re-re-watched Dr. Strangelove, in which Buck Turgidson makes a compelling contrary argument, so I’m really not so sure), what the computer in WarGames did was reach a kind of meta-conclusion. A thorough examination of the available information suggested that no good answers could be found.

How a Dam Bursts

 

The stream was dammed for the old mill well before 1976. That’s the only certain date I can give, but by that time the old mill was gone and you had to be a digger to find its foundations (I was.) There were a couple of mature hickories growing in the ruins. Let’s say the dam had stood for a century, give or take a human generation.

It was a small earthen dam on a lowland stream, holding back a hundred acres of pond water that drained from a few thousand acres of forests and fields. It rose perhaps 15 feet from its base to the outlet, perhaps a bit less. It was simply but well constructed with a hard clay interior and plenty of earth above high water, for weight. Twin four-foot pipes at one end drained away beneath the adjacent road.