The Mathematical Shape of Things to Come

The Mathematical Shape of Things to Come by Jennifer Ouellette.

From the post:

Simon DeDeo, a research fellow in applied mathematics and complex systems at the Santa Fe Institute, had a problem. He was collaborating on a new project analyzing 300 years’ worth of data from the archives of London’s Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England and Wales. Granted, there was clean data in the usual straightforward Excel spreadsheet format, including such variables as indictment, verdict, and sentence for each case. But there were also full court transcripts, containing some 10 million words recorded during just under 200,000 trials.

“How the hell do you analyze that data?” DeDeo wondered. It wasn’t the size of the data set that was daunting; by big data standards, the size was quite manageable. It was the sheer complexity and lack of formal structure that posed a problem. This “big data” looked nothing like the kinds of traditional data sets the former physicist would have encountered earlier in his career, when the research paradigm involved forming a hypothesis, deciding precisely what one wished to measure, then building an apparatus to make that measurement as accurately as possible.

From further in the post:

Today’s big data is noisy, unstructured, and dynamic rather than static. It may also be corrupted or incomplete. “We think of data as being comprised of vectors – a string of numbers and coordinates,” said Jesse Johnson, a mathematician at Oklahoma State University. But data from Twitter or Facebook, or the trial archives of the Old Bailey, look nothing like that, which means researchers need new mathematical tools in order to glean useful information from the data sets. “Either you need a more sophisticated way to translate it into vectors, or you need to come up with a more generalized way of analyzing it,” Johnson said.

All true but vectors expect a precision that is missing from any natural language semantic.

A semantic that varies from listener to listener. See: Is there a text in this class? : The authority of interpretive communities by Stanley Fish.

It is a delightful article, so long as one bears in mind that all representations of semantics are from a point of view.

The most we can say for any point of view is that it is useful for some stated purpose.

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