Thursday, May 16, 2019

Getting Through the Clutter

My daughter showed up at her doctor's office the other day and found it closed. She complained that she had received all these alerts, texts, emails, voicemails, reminding her of the appointment and then they weren't there when she showed up. She had stopped reading the alerts, the last of which said the appointment need to be rescheduled.

We all get too many alerts. I just assume many of the emails I send to faculty never get read or remembered. I get many requests to mention conferences, workshop and other theory happenings on this blog because nobody knows how to get the word out through the clutter. If we followed through on all these requests, this blog would become clutter itself.

Back in 2009, Nikhil Devanur and I wrote a paper trying to capture this phenomenon using complexity. Building on Levin's notion of universal search, the unawareness of a string x in an environment E is the amount of time needed to generate x from a context c given an oracle for E. Levin showed that one can have a universal algorithm, only a constant time slower to generate x than any other algorithm. One should think of E as the sum total of all our knowledge including search engines on the Internet. Technically we should have used the term "attention" instead of "awareness".

One example is using a calendar as part of your environment, E, that reminds you of an event, x, on that date, c. We use calendars, contact lists, emails searches and many other ways to keep strings we need to remember. Advertisers try to alter your E to get the unawareness of x down.

One of these papers that didn't go far because we didn't have great applications for the definition. But it follows a good philosophy, when life seems complex, model it.

1 comment:

  1. So let me try to get through the clutter and try to raise an issue which actually matters far beyond academy. Here is what the advocate Mara Verheyden-Hilliard said about your police arresting the american citizens which defended the Venezuela embassy in Washington:

    Oh, and by the way, I am Russian, and I do try to influence you.