Changing the Nature (of the Problem)


A week ago I've attended a lecture by prof. Hermann Ney on the statistical approach to natural language processing. Prof. Ney is a highly regarded scientist in a field that is very dear to me. His lecture was very good and very much in line with my views on the subject, so I have nothing to comment about it. But to me, the really interesting moment at the lecture came, when I asked prof. Ney if he's familiar with any research that is trying to adapt humans in such a way that it would make humans easier to understand by machines. Prof. Ney was clearly surprised by my question and he was obviously not familiar with any such research. At the end he responded to my question by saying that he's a scientist and that science tries to understand a problem as presented by nature without trying to change the nature of the problem. Recently I got very interested in the handicap of engineers that we are trying to solve all problems through technological means, even for the cases when non-technological solutions would be much more effective. Listening to prof. Ney got me thinking that scientist are even more narrow minded in the scope of the solutions they consider than engineers. The scientific method was born 500 years ago when Tycho Brahe passed his observations to Johannes Kepler. Maybe scientists should adapt their tools and techniques to the fact that the most interesting problems of our age are not about immutable stars but about malleable humans.

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