Sunday, February 1, 2009

The problem of optimization

Optimization sounds the best thing in the world. Getting more of what we want.

Moreover, as will be shown in next post, optimizaiton is central in many modern institutions and systems.

But in most cases, optimization involves optimizing for a specified parameter, thought to be most important, while indirectly damaging to a certain extent some other parameters.

Miscalibrating of your target parameter is a central problem. Suppose, you optimize your life for money, for example, and you may lose many other things (you may win other things, too, but the point is that when you aim vehemently toward a single thing you lose some others in the way).
The known saying says "life is what happens when we are busy doing other things".

A company optimizing for quarterly reports may sacrifise long term goals for this.
Nassim Taleb shows, that much of the 2008 financial meltdown is a result of vehement optimization.
There were endless more and more sophisticated structuring of things, until some miscalibration misfired. But the damage of the seemingly docile ooptimization and sohistication lead to disaster.

Problem 2: Other people's optimization.

When others optimize for you, we do not expect them to live up my wants and interests.
But when the company trying to grab my attention is optimizing, I am much more of a victim. They fight me optimally. Their sale persons, attend highly op0timized courses on how to exploit every psychological quirk I have to enslave me (or at least annoy me optimally)
An interaction between any optimized system and a natural less optimized individual, may create a big difference in power by the sheer force of optimization by the stronger party.
A small difference may create a bigger different in results.


Anonymous said...

Yes, i agree, blackswans tend to blow up optimization.

And because of that we gotta be prepared, as a profesional in a certain career lets say ingineer in something interesting, got fired of a certain company, but not for a undone mathematical problem or lack of focusing but external things such as economy meltdown, in that case one need be the most humble and try to get another job as humble as dishwasher and then combined both money check laid off check, and dischwasher check make the difference temporary, but yes i know you keep laughing at me and yes i know it is hard to be prepared in that case, but the most extrem preparedness the more strong the result. And this kind of person probably never blow up economically.

HS said...

Hi, may I ask a personal question? What are you doing in life, I mean professionally. Are you an academic, do you work in a commercial firm,... just in general. Because I was wondering from what perspective you write your posts, or how I can interpret them... interesting thoughts but I don't believe in general truths, so I gotta ask.

Yechezkel Zilber said...

There is no very defined perspective from which I write.

I am reading a lot about happiness, mainly academic, but also other styles. My stated interest of thought is whether practically people can improve their life.

I am autodidact, i.e. learned everything I know by myself.
I believe to know enough of psychological literature to be in par with professional psychologists. By tendency I am a philosopher.

I make no penny of thinking and writing. My income comes from entirely unrelated works.

Thanks for your interest. Take a chair and sit down.

HS said...

Ok, thanks for your reply (and the invitation ; ) Will sit down and check your blog more often... Maybe I can learn sth here.

Anonymous said...

I thing the problem of optimization is the hurry to get things better in spite of the danger itself, in otherwords the problem is the shallowness implementing.