Machines Learn, Human Experience

Machines Learn, Human Experience

Dear Boys,

We are in the age of the Computer Revolution. Everywhere, people are making smarter computers, and at a consumer level, smart phones and other electronic products are getting smarter, and unfortunately, humans getting dumber.

‘Anything that you can repetitively do 5 times, the same way, can be automated.’

Every now and then we will hear on the social media, how a baby drowned because the mother is to engrossed on her phone. Oh, there are other cases, I’m sure. We don’t have to look at the news, everyday, I see people engrossed over their 5 inch (some 6) and becomes oblivious to their world. I get caught up in that sometimes, but I do make a mandate not to text while I’m walking or mobile. Seems odd, but I do stop to finish my text messages before moving on. And yes, while I drive, no phones, PERIOD.

This discussion is not about Digital Policy, I wrote about that already. Its about the more current socio-economic environment, where many people fear that robots are taking away human jobs. I think it will be quite a while before robots really catch up to human level of thinking and advances.


Humans, for all our fallacies, frailties and faults, made this world humans. While we tell a lot of self-centred humans out there, ‘The Earth was here, first. ” Likewise, we can tell the machines, ‘The Humans was here first.’ They may evolve, to take over the human race on earth, I can see that coming, but that will be a long time away. By then, Robots will be so intellegent, they will be waging war against other robots, sidelining the lesser species, the Homo Sapiens.

So while we say ‘The Earth was here first”, we are mother nature’s first lover, albeit not a very good one, as many humans rape, pillage and plunder Mother Nature’s resources. The better, human side of us is able to relate and experience, what our surroundings have for us. Machines, at this current level, can only learn.

Take a hike!

For example, I went for a hike recently, enjoying the scenic walk, also testing out my new boots. It was for fun, just to get out of the concrete jungle. While I was there, I totally immerse myself into the environment, feeling the breeze, walking and walking, getting into streams just to try out the water-proofing for my boots (which held up well for s S$50 boots) I feel at a deeper sense a relationship with nature. That’s an experience. The total distance was a good 15 kilometers, I think.

Can a machine do that?

Why not? After all it is just a distance. There are already a ‘bot’ walking with me, That’s my app, on my phone, called Runkeeper. Okay, let’s talk about a physical equivalent, yes, the very smart guys from Boston Dynamics, has created eerily humanistic machines, called Big Dog, Small Dog, which can tackle the kind of terrain I walked for 15 km. The difference is that, the machine will learn the terrain, overcome it, handles the ebb and flows of it, but will not enjoy it. There will be nothing attached to the endeavour, except data and function. The machine will learn, to stoop low, to get past an overhang, go slow, going downhill. Data will be obtained, everything the camera sees, helps the entire machine to manage the journey. That’s it.

They will never ‘get it’ that the whole 15km is about an abstract, random, serendipitous feel. The experience that I felt, looking at all the trees there, with respect and awe, these living things are here first, older than me, wiser than me. Me, a little puny human being, dwarfed by the enormity of the jungle, and yet so fortunate to have this gift of life.

Repetition is the key to robotisation

My mantra is ‘Anything that you can repetitively do 5 times, the same way, can be automated.’ I probably heard that from somewhere else, but it makes sense, and that will be how the machines rise. It will rise from the ashes of the Industrial Revolution, because we humans want to be productive, and make the same things over and over again, until some lazy bastard came along and invented stuffs to do that for us.

So is learning.

So don’t learn. experience. Learning is only one part, the input of information into our brains, learning is repeated again and again until we ‘get it’. But we don’t get it all the times, and I think that is fine, as long as you get the experience about it and from there a lesson. Experience,  is unique, it cannot be repeated. It is a whole body immersion, the problem is, in schools they expects you to learn, using only specific part of our body, if we continue to do that, machines can catch up, because they exist for a specific purpose, function and design. The fact that we still beat machines, is because we are a total, holistic system, the machines not yet. I can pluck out a key from the keyboard, the computer will still work, and will not feel pain, obviously. Try pulling a fingernail out of a person’s hand.

So we need to make learning experiential, then we can continue to be humans, because it is our own unique experiences that makes us one of a kind, any other form of learning, makes us human computers, pretending to be the real computers. And when we lose our originality, our original purpose, the real computers will take over.


Responsibility: Yours and mine


A friend of mine in his 30’s recounted to me how he used to call home from school when he was in Primary school, just to ask his mother to send his workbook, exercise book and sometimes pencil case almost every day. And I thought to myself, how spoilt and irresponsible, I would never have done that and I will never allow my kiddos to do that.

Of course, once or twice is fine. But it shouldn’t be too frequent, otherwise how do we teach our children to become responsible for their own belongings?

Then came this TNP article about a school discouraging parents from dropping off their children’s forgotten items.

So signs are put up at Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School’s entry points that says: “Let Your Child Grow Up…Please turn around and leave…”. A bit hard-core, I know. But I think you need to see where the school is coming from here.

The Principal told the reporter that “taking responsibility for their own learning and belongings is an important life skill we require our pupils to learn as part of our values education…”

I think one reason for this is if a handful of parents come to the general office with items to pass to their children, then the general office will definitely have to spend time getting the items to the students. It’s definitely not productive.

Then of course there’s the main reason of the children not learning how to be responsible for themselves. Many of the comments for this post on Facebook, agree that spoon-feeding and pampering the kids won’t do them any good.

Honestly, teaching children responsibility should start at home. After all, our homes are the first school for our children. Children should be taught to be responsible for their mistakes or actions and learn to be accountable for their belongings.

In other words, the responsibility of teaching our children these values should lie on parents, and shouldn’t be left to the school instead.

Just to quote a psychologist interviewed by TNP, “if parents are constantly solving problems for their children, it will affect their ability to be alert.”

Are we being irresponsible parents?

Think about it, back in the good old days, parents used punishment to teach kids how to behave properly and be responsible for their actions. But these days, parents are busy working and making a mark for themselves in society that somehow the role of educating their children values fall on teachers. Are we expecting too much of our teachers then? Besides planning for their lessons, teaching and taking charge of CCAs, they have now got to be responsible for teaching students basic values? No wonder we have a shortage of teachers as a result of the high attrition rate.

Are we being fair to our teachers or not?

I do hope that more parents can begin to be more aware of the need to be more present in their children’s lives and be their kids’ first teacher.

Maybe the next time if your child calls you about forgetting to bring something to school, remind him or her that it’s your responsibility AND his or her’s to remember to bring it to school.

Written and Contributed by: Nicholas Lee


Boy’s Weakness

Boy’s Weakness

A 10-year-old boy decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.

The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move. “Sensei,”the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?” “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sense replied.

Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.

This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.” Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament.

He was the champion. On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”

“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.

Moral: Sometimes we feel that we have certain weaknesses and we blame our creator, the circumstances or ourselves for it but we never know that our weaknesses can become our strengths one day. Each of us is special and important, so never think you have any weakness, never think of pride or pain, just live your life to its fullest and extract the best out of it!



first posted: Apr 1, 2014 10:47 AM

No straight lines

No straight lines

Nothing on Earth travels in a straight line, everything has a curvature, even a seemingly ‘straight’ line. Take any given ‘straight’ line, magnify it 500x, and you’ll see features and landscape that ebb and flow like any other terrain, magnify it yet another 500x, your straight lines will vanish into microscopic images.

Point in case, my eldest son asked me a very, very good question.

Son: “Pa”

Me: “Yes?”

Son: “The Earth is round right?”

Me: “Yes, of course.”

Son: Why don’t the people staying at the lower parts of the earth feels as if they are upside down?” (While I’m sure there is a perfectly sound,  scientific explanation for that, but it struck me as a pretty darn good question!)

Life is always delusional, and it will always be a horizon. we can see the horizon as a straight line, but we all know by now, beyond that ‘straight’ line, is the curve of the Earth.

When you think Aikido, it is precisely that, a straight curve line. It is grounded in a spherical nature because that is ultimately, how thing, in nature is, a curve, a circle. Sometimes, the circle is small,very, very small, sometimes it is very big, as in 365 days orbit-ally big. Some times even larger, many lifetimes larger.

So we need to see things in a bigger light. Aikido, to many, appears on the surface as a straight line, we look at the technicalities of it, the effectiveness, and the this-versus-that argument, well that is all straight line talk. Aikido is a curve ball no one can see coming, and yet it has no secrets, all you need to do is endure the travel of the curve, and the teachings will always reveal itself, just round the curve.

first posted: Jan 24, 2015 1:54 AM