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Monday, October 25, 1999

Paul, Rick, No-Fault Insurance, and the Propane Gang

Garrett* went round and round with the insurance people, talked with AAA, the safety inspection guys, some governmental department or another. It turns out the buck doesn't stop anywhere when it's getting passed around in a circle, so after two or three times around the circuit, Garrett* finally concluded that he was just going to have to get Hawaii-approved insurance, and that is that.

Naturally, Hawaiian insurance, being "no fault" turns out to be about twice what we were paying in California.

The Go game continues...

Wiz noticed the main valve on the propane tank itself was leaking a little bit, so the gas company sent out a couple of repair guys. They were the spittin' image of the two repair guys from the movie Brazil--the lead man with a round face and perpetually insincere smile that looked like he might be chewing on a toothpick, and the tall and gangly number two man with a serious case of hick machismo and a hint to his mannerisms which suggested he was on the verge of an episode. They sprayed soapy water all over, and found a little leak on the valve where we told them it was. So they openned the valve as far as it would go, and then whacked it a few degrees more with the back side of a wrench. Voila, a smug smile from the fat one, problem solved.

We finally meet Paul, while he's running around in the kitchen preparing half a dozen dishes for our enjoyment. Giant prawns, polenta, and fried basil leaves make for fine appetizers to keep us occupied. Two more guests are here: Kate and Rick. Rick is a financial adviser, and is thrilled to be having a real, rational conversation here on Maui. "Techies!!!"

I am amused by the way each person at the table casts each topic in their own familiar terms. Each time a company comes up, one person talks of their ethics, another of their science, and Rick says something like "It's a good stock -- symbol XYZYX". Amayzingly, Rick managed to tack a stock symbol in as an adjunct to his main sentence ("I have a friend who works for Apple--stock symbol AAPL--in their advanced technology group...") two or three times during the evening, and did it with such naturalness that it was hardly noticable as unusual.

Paul's background is in expert systems, and his current theme is human-machine interface. The bottom line is he's in the job of selling charisma, not making technology-- he's a paid speaker, keynote type. Both he and I recognized how little we had to talk about in the AI domain right off, probably before anyone else realized anything substantial had been said. So I just listened with mild amusement and bit my tongue much of the evening, especially at the distinction between "machine intelligence" and "human emotion and randomness". This is to be expected from his expert-systems background. Expert systems have almost no relationship to the way we think; but that's not because they're computers and we're animals, it's simply because they're two different algorithms. Computers will be running animal-like algorithms soon enough.

The women dissappeared early in the evening, at the first sign of tech talk. I would have followed them if I could have tactfully, for more reason than one. :)

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com