Note: This article is a slightly edited version of an article originally posted on our Search Visualiser blog on May 17, 2012. I’ve updated it to address recent claims about how Artificial Intelligence might revolutionise research.
So what is pattern matching, and why should anyone care about it?
First picture: Two individuals who don’t care about pattern matching (Pom’s the mainly white one, and Tiddles is the mainly black one (names have been changed to protect the innocent…)
Pattern matching is important because it’s at the heart of the digital revolution. Google made its fortune largely from the simplest form of pattern matching. Computers can’t manage the more complex forms of pattern matching yet, but humans can handle them easily. A major goal in computer science research is finding a way for computers to handle those more complex forms of pattern matching. A major challenge in information management is figuring out how to split a task between what the computer does and what the human does.
So, there are good reasons for knowing about pattern matching, and for trying to get a better understanding of it.
As for what pattern matching is: The phrase is used to refer to several concepts which look similar enough to cause confusion, but which are actually very different from each other, and which have very different implications.
The first article in this short series examined how conflicting conventions and requirements can lead to a movie being unrealistic. The second article explored the pressures driving movie scripts towards unrealistically high signal to noise ratios, with few of the extraneous details that occur in real conversations.
Today’s article, the third in the series, addresses another way in which movies are different from reality. Movies depict a world which features the word “very” a lot. Sometimes it’s the characters who are very bad, or very good, or very attractive, or whatever; sometimes it’s the situations they encounter which are very exciting or very frightening or very memorable; sometimes it’s the settings which are very beautiful, or very downbeat, or very strange. Whatever the form that it takes, the “very” will almost always be in there somewhere prominent.
Why does this happen? It’s a phenomenon that’s well recognised in the media, well summed up in a quote attributed to Walt Disney, where he allegedly said that his animations could be better than reality.
When you think of it from that perspective, then it makes sense for movies to show something different from reality, since we can see reality easily enough every day without needing to watch a movie. This raises other questions, though, such as in which directions movies tend to be different from reality, and how big those differences tend to be.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I have an awed respect for the ability of Ancient Greek philosophers to spot a really important point, and to then produce an extremely plausible but only partially correct explanation, sending everyone else off in the wrong direction for the next couple of thousand years.
Today’s article is about one of those points, where the Ancient Greeks didn’t actually get anything wrong, but where they laid out a concept that’s only part of the story. It involves a concept that can be very useful for making sense of consumer preferences and life choices, namely the difference between intrinsic properties in the broad sense, and extrinsic properties in the broad sense.
Here’s an example. The image below shows a pair of Zippo lighters. One of them is worth a few dollars; the other is worth tens of thousands of dollars, even though it’s physically indistinguishable from the first one. Why the difference? The answer is below…
There’s a widely used concept called the 80:20 Principle, or the Pareto Principle, named after the decision theorist who invented it. It’s extremely useful.
In brief, across a wide range of fields, about 80% of one thing will usually come from 20% of another.
In business, for example, 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your customers. In any sector, getting the first 80% of the job done will usually take about 20% of the resources involved; getting the last 20% of the job done will usually be much harder, and will take up 80% of the resources. The figure won’t always be exactly 80%, but it’s usually in that area. Good managers are very well aware of this issue, and keep a wary eye out for it when planning.
Here’s a diagram showing the principle. It’s pretty simple, but very powerful. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. It can actually be developed into something richer and more powerful, which is what we’ll describe in this article.
There are a lot of very useful concepts which are nowhere near as widely known as they should be.
One of these is the concept of instrumental versus expressive behaviour. It makes sense of a broad range of human behaviour which would otherwise look baffling. It explains a lot of the things that politicians do, and a lot of the ways that people act in stressful situations, for instance.
This article gives a short overview of the traditional version of the concept, and describes how a richer form of knowledge representation can make the concept even more useful.
Humans being expressive and instrumental
Sources for original images are given at the end of this article
There’s a scene in the movie Byzantium where a vampire hesitates at a threshold, waiting for her intended victim to invite her inside. The setting is a run-down seaside town, out of season. It’s a scene that combines several types of unsettling strangeness, which makes it a good starting point for today’s article about strange places.
Two boundary spaces: Image credits are at the end of this article.