Active Thinking Topic 49 -  Is It Worth Knowing How Stuff Works?

Monday 7 January 2022, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St, Adelaide CBD, South Australia

Talking Points

1. Every day you use dozens of items without thinking about how they really work (.. how deeply do you understand your mobile phone?). What don't you care about when it comes to understanding this stuff? What do you feel curious about investigating further?

2. From your employment experience, are you satisfied with a narrow set of job skills, or (for example) do you want to understand enough in an organization department to run the whole thing yourself? Defend your choice.

3. There is a now rarely used Australian slang word, 'nousy'. A nousy bloke was someone who could improvise a solution to any situation from whatever tools or string & chewing gum, or patchy knowledge was at hand. Being nousy was highly valued. Is it now devalued? If so, why?

4. Should school curricula include a 'subject' with lessons or projects to explore how some of the machines, devices, programs, institutions etc we encounter actually work? What would you want to include for study in this school subject?

5. Fees by service personnel are typically inflated when the customers have no idea what is really being fixed. Examples? Note that this affects not only individuals, but also organizations where clueless managers don't know what they are managing. 'Consultants' also dine on this kind of ignorance. Is all this inevitable? Solutions?

6. Are there big gender differences in the kind of stuff which each gender want to know about 'how things works'? Examples? Is this a problem? Are such differences inevitable?

7. In every country, regardless of the political system and systems of administration, a huge part of each population has no real idea of how governments and administrations work, either formally or in practice. At best these people can express a small collection of slogans. Does this matter? Can it be changed? Would people make better choices if they actually understood these systems?

8. There is almost unlimited information now available for free on the Internet - more than you can learn in any school or university. How many people are skilled at finding this information when they need it? How many people can understand this information when they find it? Can they be taught to effectively find and interpret information? [Hint: 1. The answers you get depend upon the questions you ask. 2. Judgement is often poor. Half of marriages fail.]

9. Are you an information minimalist or an information maximalist? Defend your position. If you were a politician or CEO, how would this affect your work?

10. Are you willing to let AI decide your fate without having a clue how it is deciding? The self-teaching algorithms of AI (artificial intelligence) mean that even the computer engineers who put questions into such systems don't know exactly how such systems arrive at their answers. This can be a life or death issue in scenes like self-driving cars, fly-by-wire planes or computer driven medical surgery don't know what the machine will decide, or exactly how it will decides.


Extra Reading

Andrew Sonstrom (November 30th, 2017) "Broad vs. Narrow Skillsets: Software Engineering Skills Demystified". Deep Core Data @ 

Thor May (1995) "English for Mechanics" [ebook]   [comment: This is a program of 99 units explaining car & engine components. Some sample units are online here free. (You really need car parts or illustrations in ont to you to make much sense of this. The ebook costs US$15)]

[no named author, no date] "How WiFi and Cell Phones Work | Wireless Communication Explained". The Explained Channel @ 

Shep Hyken (Jun 10, 2017) "Half Of People Who Encounter Artificial Intelligence Don't Even Realize It". Forbes @ 

Zachary Aldwin (26 May 2016) "The pros, cons of ignorance". The Herald [Zimbabwe] @ 

Georgina Kenyon (6 January 2016) "The man who studies the spread of ignorance - How do people or companies with vested interests spread ignorance and obfuscate knowledge? Georgina Kenyon finds there is a term which defines this phenomenon". BBC @

Adam Brownell (Feb 17, 2022) "Our Impending (& Self-Inflicted) AI-Horror Boom - The world is growing more distrustful of AI, and it’s AI developers fault". Towards Data Science @  [Quote: "What percentage of people are scared of AI? Studies show that 34 percent of people are afraid of AI, while 24 percent think AI will be harmful for society. GWI finds that 63 percent of people worry about how their personal data is used by companies. Or an article about how only 25% of consumers trust an AI over a human to make a financial decision for them."]

Kevin Parrish (Sep 27, 2021) "Survey: 80% of Americans Don’t Know How the Internet Works - We surveyed 1,000 Americans on their internet knowledge—here’s what we found". High Speed Internet @  [Quote: "As the graphic shows, 74% of those surveyed believe they know precisely how the internet works, but just 20% could explain it correctly. That’s understandable, given we open our favorite browsers, stream our media, and play our games online without thinking about how our data gets from Point A to Point B and back".]

John Lee (January 22, 2021) "The risks to Australia’s democracy". The Brookings Institution @  [Quote: "... 30% of 18-29 year-old citizens surveyed believed a non-democratic system is preferable to a democratic one under some circumstances, while 55% believed democracy is preferable regardless of circumstance. This is a contrast to those 60 years and over surveyed, only 15% of whom believed a non-democratic system might be preferable, while 72% believed democracy was always preferable. The overall numbers for all surveyed was 22% and 65%, respectively. The lower regard for democracy amongst younger Australians is reflected in previous polling going back to 2012. ... There is immense public ignorance as to the respective roles of the federal and state governments. Much of the Australian public is ignorant of the reality that it is the latter which is largely responsible for the health and public response to prevent and/or manage the consequences of the pandemic ...There is immense public ignorance as to the respective roles of the federal and state governments. Much of the Australian public is ignorant of the reality that it is the latter which is largely responsible for the health and public response to prevent and/or manage the consequences of the pandemic .. ']


 Is It Worth Knowing How Stuff Works? (c) Thor May 2023

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