The problem of “Salary + bonuses”

Frederick Pohl on the credit crunch.  This is the simplest explanation of why the banks made sub-prime mortgages that I’ve yet seen, finally the reason we’re in this mess makes some kind of sense.  The fact that people -fell- for this line just goes to show that the world is full of stupid people.  Or at least, somewhat naive and gullible people.

It did remind me of a story I heard at uni that seems to be an apt comparison here.  One of my lecturers was interested in graphics, machine learning and evolutionary computation, similar research interests as I have as a matter of fact. 

One day he set up a virtual robot environment with a straight line joining two points.  The robots, he decided, had to start at the first point and learn to travel along the line to the second.  In order to do this, rather than attempting to code some sort of routine to control it, he decided to run evolutionary algorithms to evolve robots who could perform this task.

Just to make it more interesting, he decided that physical appearance of the robot’s should be evolvable too, to see if the system could come up with a robot that could perform this task the fastest within the programmed environment physics.

The wonderful thing about evolutionary computing is that sometimes (read, often) the systems themselves can surprise you.  It did indeed evolve a robot capable of quickly following the straight line to the second point.  It was a large rectangle as tall as the distance between the two points, which, when the simulation was started, promptly fell over – reaching the second point in the process.

Give people (or evolution) a results-based reward and expect them to cut corners and find a short-cut to get there.  The problem is of course, capitalist propaganda aside, the process is generally as important as the result.


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