Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dropping the APM bomb on Computers

Brad (last name unknown), a College Football analyst on ESPN radio's the Sports Bash was discussing Hawaii's chance of being in the top 12 of the BCS standings. He said, "I don't think the voters in the polls are disrespecting Hawaii, if anything it's the computer polls that are disrespecting them, if a computer can disrespect a team".

No Brad, a computer can't disrespect someone. That computer is actually a computer model which was designed by a person, probably a statistician, to describe how good teams are. This anthropomorphism* is troubling, because it reveals a complete misunderstanding of what is going on. There aren't some evil computers out to get Hawaii. A statistician came up with a model which calculated that teams who have lost games against good opponents are better than teams which consistently beat poor opponents.

There are certainly flaws with computer models. Computers may not take into account all the factors that voters can, but they are able to ignore factors that human voters take into account, like the "feel good" story of a small conference team Hawaii. These stories, however intriguing they are, are correctly ignored by computers, an objective ranking source.

Computers aren't that difficult to understand. All you have to do is ask, and any of us CS majors will wax eloquently, something CS majors usually aren't that good at. Please, know what you're talking about before going on national radio and spouting nonsense.

*: Dropping the APM bomb refers to gratuitous use of the word anthropomorphic, especially to make yourself or your writings sound smarter. I employed this technique on a college paper, but it didn't seem to help my grade.

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