Why you'll want your computer to feel regret, and other weird news

    Decisions are notorious teases. Do you call the ambulance or do you let your husband die from the heart attack? Compare the life insurance to his salary. Do you blame a succession of earthquakes on forces of nature or gays? There’s science, then there are awkward quotes like, “God says you shake your genitals where you are not supposed to and I will shake my world in order to wake you up.” But the one constant in decision making — for kidnap victims and cocaine addicts and computers alike — is the regret. Learn to appreciate it.

    German government holding kidnap victims for ransom

    One of the biggest disincentives for those looking to get involved in the recreational “kidnap victim” sport is its prohibitive price tag. And a court ruling in Germany last week that allows the government to ask victims for repayment of costs incurred from rescuing them has driven the price even higher.

    To become a victim, there’s the transportation costs — a ticket to get to a sufficiently lawless part of the world where kidnappings are a common occurrence (there needs to be some insurance that one will become a kidnapping statistic, especially in a market so driven by chance).

    Of course there’s also the consideration of what climate one wants to be kidnapped in. Remembering that the life of a kidnap victim involves a lot of sitting around in tattered clothing, occasionally being fed freshly beheaded rats, the temperature becomes one of the few factors within the victim’s control. Too hot and the smell of bubbling urine becomes even more unbearable; too cold and there’s the risk of catching pneumonia.

    But the kidnap victim enthusiast could usually count on their home country to pay the ransom, psychological counseling and return flight costs. A recent ruling in German court has challenged that assumption. The German Foreign Ministry billed a German citizen — who’d been kidnapped while visiting Colombia — $18,735 for the cost of rescuing her in a helicopter out of the jungle hideout.

    If this move significantly decreases the demand for kidnap victim rescue services, it could topple an already struggling world economy.

    Obama cocaine conspiracy

    As long as legitimate media outlets insist on only reporting stories with “facts” and “evidence,” we the consumers are going to miss some truly majestic fare. Example: I never would’ve learned that Obama allegedly had a crazy drug-and-sex party in 1999 if it weren’t for people who like to send me links to crap like this.

    Larry Sinclair, a Minnesota man (although his picture evokes a character more akin to a backwoods Montana moose hunter than harmless funny accent), brought forth these accusations in a YouTube video. He’s dressed in a red button-up and a blue baseball cap, probably to evoke unconscious association with the U.S. flag and patriotism. The tortured facial expression; the monotone, rehearsed delivery; the nervous voice ticks. Sinclair is the picture of unfiltered honesty.

    The claim: Sinclair met Obama at a club in Chicago in 1999 and they left in Sinclair’s limo where Obama smoked crack cocaine and Sinclair snorted powder cocaine (if nothing else, at least Sinclair got the racial stereotypes correct), then later had sex.

    The Smoking Gun got a copy of the complaint, which states that Sinclair repeatedly approached the Obama campaign and then news outlets in order to make the story break. Soon after, the physical threats began. Sinclair is suing Obama and the Democratic Party because he believes they’re trying to keep the story quiet through intimidation.

    Now that Whitehouse.com claims Sinclair failed a polygraph test administered by their expert last week, maybe a nice vacation in a secluded tropical location would help soothe Sinclair’s fears and deflect media attention. May I recommend the Colombian jungle? Perhaps he can even land a grant from the German government to pay for the whole thing.

    Humans feel regret, computer scientists upset they didn’t know this earlier

    Computer models that predict human behavior have so far been woefully inaccurate. But a bunch of computer nerds in Italy sat in their cubicles for a while, probably ironically isolating themselves from actual human contact, in order to solve the puzzle of how humans behave. Humans, it turns out, feel regret. They could’ve gotten the same answer, not to mention saved the repetitive stress syndrome from typing a billion lines of computer code, just by observing Clinton trying to explain her Senate voting record.

    The impetus for programming an approximation of regret into computer simulations of human behavior came from observation of human behavior during strategic games. After a player has the information from his opponent’s move, he’s able to go back and calculate what his best original move would have been. If he hasn’t made the most efficient choice, he feels remorse.

    Using this same idea, programmers in Italy had computers make decisions then go back and evaluate all the other possible paths. When computers incorporated this information — this estimation of how much regret a human would feel — they were better able to predict how a human would act in a game situation.

    The research gained will be used by economists to refine their theory of the “rational consumer” (hint: people aren’t rational) and obviously, to create even drier economics textbooks with which to confuse unsuspecting freshmen economics majors.

    Economists have a way of ruining everything, having already said that paying ransom to keep kidnap victims alive is stupid and that voting for presidential candidates is inefficient. Let’s all hope economists never find a foolproof method for efficiently picking the concert of the week, otherwise angry music fans may need a new hobby.


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