Weekly Roundup: He Doesn’t Know Why, And “He” Means “It”

This is the story of an ethical dilemma. In the summer of 2018 I took a gig with JPMorgan Chase on the team that designed automated teller machine software. There’s been a fundamental change in the way ATMs work over the past few years. The original ATMs were simply video terminals with an ability to dispense cash; all of your interactions with the machine were actually with a mainframe located on the other end of a dedicated phone line. By the Nineties, ATMs were “real-time” computers which could do a little bit of thinking on their own in-between those mainframe queries. Those worked very well for a very long time.

About half a decade ago, the ATM was reimagined as — ugh — a Web browser with the ability to perform a few mechanical interactions on-site. This is also the way that the VitalPath oncology dispensing system at Cardinal Health, for which I developed the server-side infrastructure and Arduino-based electro-magnetic cabinet locking, works. The advantage of this method is that you can make things look very nice in a hurry, using low-skill developers and established methods. That’s about the only advantage, but it’s a very important one in the modern inverted-pyramid software development lifecycle in which there are multiple “app owners” and “project managers” and “scrum leaders” for every coder who actually does anything.

The disadvantages, on the other hand, are readily apparent to everyone: the machines don’t work reliably, they don’t work quickly, and they are prone to all sorts of unpredictable behavior. It perhaps has not escaped your notice that ATMs don’t work as well as they used to. It certainly hasn’t escaped mine, and I took the Chase gig with an intent to help address this situation.

Which is where the ethical situation comes in. My manager asked me to develop some machine-learning routines to predict ATM failures before they happened. The idea was that the ATMs would often throw various combinations of errors prior to closing up shop. He offered to free up some serious computing power and to give me carte blanche on the project for as long as I needed. This was hugely attractive to me — and did I mention that this particular Chase office had free motorcycle parking? There was just one problem: We didn’t need a machine-learning environment to accomplish this task. There were a few pre-existing log analysis tools which could do the trick. At least two of them were actively licensed and used by our department for other purposes.

So: Should I let my manager know about this, set up the solution, and return to the pool of sysadmins who were wrestling with a monstrously ill-advised project to move much of our banking infrastructure to the Amazon Clown? Or should I spent six months or even a year enjoying solitary time designing an overly-complex system and enjoying a rare chance to do some actual computer science?

Luckily for me, this Gordian knot was neatly cut by the Pirelli World Challenge series. I needed to participate in a Friday practice at Watkins Glen, and my manager said I was absolutely not permitted to take the day off. Goodbye machine learning opportunity, hello Optima Battery Best Start award! But I picked up quite a bit of machine-learning knowledge on the run-up to that fateful weekend, and that’s why I’m not surprised at the fact that a machine can play halfway decent chess without actually being programmed to do so.

SlateStarCodex, the existence of which I was recently reminded by a reader, just did a piece about using machine learning to play chess without knowing the rules of chess. The program is called GPT-2. and it works like this: You let it “read” a lot of text, and it can eventually write text in the style it’s been reading. Feed it all the Shakespeare plays, and it will create plays that sound like Shakespeare — even though they don’t necessarily have much of a plot. Let it read stock tickers, and it will create stock tickers. Let it read kindergartener’s handwriting assignments, and it will eventually produce the complete works of Doug DeMuro. Just kidding about that last one.

Someone let GPT-2 read millions of chess-game descriptions using the standard chess notation. It then started “writing” chess moves, based on what it had read. The program had no knowledge of chess or its rules. It was simply noticing patterns in existing chess games and riffing off them. So if chess masters typically responded to a certain pawn move with a certain knight move, GPT-2 would probably do something similar.

Using this technique, GPT-2 gave the author of SlateStarCodex a run for his money in a friendly chess game. This isn’t impressive on the face of things, because an Android phone can beat all but the best grandmasters in chess. But that would require a chess program, whereas GPT-2 is simply a pattern-recognition machine. In theory, it would be just as good at checkers, Monopoly, poker, or Cards Against Humanity. It just needs a sufficiently large dataset with which to start.

Some of you will recognize that GPT-2 is basically acting as a Chinese Room, which is a traditional computer science concept. In this concept, you have a bunch of people sitting in a room. Each of them has a manual showing two sets of weird shapes. Pieces of paper are handed into the room. The people look at their manual, which tells them to replace certain shapes on the paper with other shapes, then to hand the paper back out of the room. The people who work in the room have no idea what the shapes mean — but the people outside of the Chinese Room know it as a place where you hand Chinese sentences in and get English (or Japanese, or Korean) sentences in return. Even though the people in the room actually speak Spanish. They don’t know what the shapes mean — but if they can follow the rules properly, that’s no impediment to them providing outstanding service.

So GPT-2 is a self-training Chinese Room. Right now it’s pretty harmless. (For a terrifying example of a Chinese Room, read Blindsight.) GPT-2 won’t hurt you. But it’s also pretty good at chess.

The author of SlateStarCodex is worried about the future implications of creating superintelligent AI, and he’s been writing about that lately — but I think he might be asking the wrong questions. True artificial intelligence may never come to pass, because it would require consciousness, and right now we don’t know how to produce artificial consciousness. The Terminator-movie idea of SkyNet suddenly assuming consciousness and attacking the human race is probably not gonna happen. We will have a lot of machines which simply become catatonic first. (Hey, maybe that’s what’s happening to the Chase ATMs!) Successful consciousness is a real balancing act and it doesn’t always work even in human beings which are basically designed for and around the concept.

No, what worries me is the specter of Chinese Room behavior run rampant. You’re probably seen a few examples of this already — think of the occasionally bizarre results you get from online advertising, Amazon suggested items, that sort of thing. Facebook’s Chinese Rooms are very good at suggesting new friends to its members, but a certain percentage of the suggestions are simply bizarre, based on a Chinese Room mismatch of social interactions. Google reads all your mail and suggests products you’ll like. Most are relevant. Some are simply bizarre. There’s no consciousness at work, no true intelligence — just predictive pattern matching.

Except. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that human intelligence is merely a certain kind of predictive pattern matching. With two caveats. Humans are conscious, which means they can consider the pattern-matching in their own heads and modify it to suit. Human beings are also very good at coming up with original ideas which they then run through their pattern-matching routines. That’s how music is written. That’s how I wrote this column: I considered a few different associations between things I’d done and read, ran it through some pattern-matching to determine how feasible it was, and then proceeded accordingly.

Programs like GPT-2 “seed” their new chess moves or poetry by generating random text and then adjusting it to resemble an existing pattern. Human beings don’t do that. Most of our new thoughts arrive almost fully-formed. That’s why I can write an article about as fast as I can type, and that’s why I can improvise music as quickly as my clumsy fingers can perform my ideas.

None of this mattered much to normal folk until recently, but machine learning is now an extremely hot topic among computer people. My manager didn’t come up with his idea out of thin air; he was copying things that other managers were doing. In other words, he was acting like GPT-2 himself, taking the ideas around him and modifying them slightly. I guess he could easily be replaced with an Intel Core i7 — but that’s true of nearly every technical manager I’ve ever known. So his idea was not original, nor has it been rare. There are a lot of machine-learning routines being “trained” as we speak, in nearly every field and topic you can imagine.

At some point, someone is gonna have the bright idea to let the successors of GPT-2 start doing real work. Most of the time, it will go pretty well. You could use GPT-2 to answer customer service emails, schedule appointments, determine more efficient routings for freight and packages and whatnot. The more success these programs have, the more chances they will get to succeed. So one day you will have GPT-12 or GPT-32 in charge of hospitals, power grids… SkyNet. And then SkyNet will decide to eliminate humanity. Not because it’s conscious, and not because it hates people. Just because that seems like a reasonable pattern. It will be the unthinking malice of a cobra in a child’s crib.

This is the story of an ethical dilemma. Should you sabotage machine learning everywhere it appears? Should you actively hinder the progress of machine learning? Should you attack SkyNet when it’s built? What about the “expert system” which will eventually turn off your life support when it judges that the costs exceed the value of keeping you alive? If the machines aren’t conscious, is it any less wrong to act against them? What about when they eventually strike back? Will it make any difference that they don’t know why they’re killing you? Or that they don’t even know what they’re doing? If you’re beaten at chess by a machine that thinks it’s generating random text, are you twice the loser as a result, or no loser at all?

* * *

For Hagerty, I addressed the idea of cheap Miatas, which has led to a fascinating thread on Miata.net.

55 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: He Doesn’t Know Why, And “He” Means “It””

  1. AvatarEric L.

    This is good.

    I spoke today to a gray beard developer/sysadmin (to me, mid-career to you) who’s been employed at our 2500 person corporation for many years. He keeps Peoplesof alive. Not sure what that entails, exactly, but he corrected me on a few things I had wrong (“No, no, Salesforce is the FRONTEND to Peoplesoft.” I thought CRMs killed ERPs, though? “No, our entire business–EVERYTHING–is in Peoplesoft.” oic.), including that Peoplesoft has been slowly updated through the years and runs in a fairly-recent Microsoft SQL.

    Oh SQL Server, that’s cool. At least it’s not in an AS/400 DB2, amirite? “THE AS/400 IS MY FAVORITE COMPUTER OF ALL TIME!” and off we go into late-80s/early 90s history lesson.

    He claimed the AS/400s would phone IBM when they detected anomalies in their hardware, and IBM techs would randomly show up at the company where Gray Beard (technically, Gray Soul Patch–this is Del Mar) worked. “What are you doing here? ‘Oh, the AS/400 has a drive that’s going out. I’m swapping it out.’ Oh, cool.”

    Is that a thing, RG commenters? How can a Unix mainframe in the early 90s phone home to IBM?

    Aside: It’s fantastic how we keep reinventing older technology in worse new ways. SMART has existed for years, but it’s only a matter of time until some jerk in Google creates SMARGP2 to randomly generate SSD health indices based on lsblk output.

    • AvatarDale

      >How can a Unix mainframe in the early 90s phone home to IBM?

      I wouldn’t be surprised that it could do it. Worked on IBM Mainframes in the mid-80’s which had a “remote service capability”. The mainframe would “phone home”, via modem, when it detected an issue. “Low coolant” was the most dramatic I saw.

    • AvatarMrGreenMan

      I remember, about 1994, loading up a BSD-derived system on commodity hardware for this project of “doing something with this Hot Metal thing”, and tripping over the disk controllers – which probably was because RAID cards from CompUSA were not good for (I think) Vesa Local Bus.

      At the time, I talked to the AIX sysadmin, who showed me that this was not a problem for them – like LVM later, AIX had long been able to homogenize a number of disks into one working disk, so that, if there was a failure, it could also shuffle the data around before it became terminal. Attach or swap hardware, and the operating system would make it work perfectly.

      She ran AIX on whatever the hardware successor was to the AS/400. At one point, before it became a dreadful consulting business that churned-and-burned people with masters-level credentials, IBM did beautiful things in computer science. The AS/400 was a thing of beauty. (So did Digital, which went to its grave long ago. The Compaq server monitoring cards required more active polling, but I think they could be configured to phone-home, too.)

      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        The AS/400, like its VAX counterpart at DEC, was built to last a lifetime. Its hardware successor was the POWER-based microcomputer but IBM was building new AS/400 systems well into the 21st century.

        I developed a sales reporting system for IBM in 2000 and as a parting gift they gave me an x230 server for my own business. It’s still in my basement and will still fire up on command. Redundant EVERYTHING.

    • AvatarKevin Jaeger

      Many of these devices certainly had the ability to either call home or be remotely monitored. This would be true of mainframes, minicomputers, storage arrays and robotic tape drives. They would detect faults just like setting the check engine light on your car and whoever was responsible for servicing them could dispatch a technician with the parts. This was a common service model even decades ago when I guess it wasn’t widely known outside the industry.

      Now it’s true of building control systems and a great deal of other equipment.

    • Avatarbaconator

      Yes, I had some very minor junior-level responsibility for the care and feeding of an AS/400 back in the 1994-1995 timeframe, and it would indeed phone home if it felt sick. Guys from IBM would show up, fiddle around in the chassis, and depart.

      Much of the enterprise server management software you see these days is just a cloud-based or data-center-based implementation of stuff that IBM had done somewhere between 1968 and 1999.

      • Avatarsgeffe

        I believe that the HP 3000, running MPE iX, had the same type of thing. In November of last year, we finally shut off three of those boxes, which did yeoman duty since the mid-‘80s, if not further back!

        As a 26-year Systems Analyst for a County government in Ohio, I’ve seen quite a bit! This article is a little dystopian, to be sure; hopefully we don’t let computers be programmed to make big decisions in a vacuum!

        Two things that drive me to insanity are addressed in here with the “Chinese Room” theory, I think!

        1. On Intuit’s Mint financial-aggregation site, which I use to help track my finances, if there’s a connection problem or other error, the message usually starts off with “Hmm..!” As in “hmm..we can’t seem to connect to XYZ right now.” A computer CANNOT THINK FOR ITSELF!! That gets old after about the first TWO messages! I personally find that shit patronizing!

        2. “Intelligent Voice-Recognition” (IVR) phone-tree systems which don’t give the caller an option to press a key on the phone keypad to navigate! I absolutely resent having to “carry on a conversation” with a hunk of silicon in order to get to someone who speaks halfway passable English, if I’m lucky! Believe me when I say that when given no other choice, if my call is “monitored for training purposes,” that the transcript of that call leading up to contact with the inevitable denizen of a Bangalore shithole will contain strings of words with four letters, as well as the “key words” yelled at a volume meant to hurt the ears of the listeners on the other end!

  2. Avatarstingray65

    Thank you Jack for another very thought provoking essay. It is very hard to put a genie back in its bottle, especially one that is so profitable in cutting labor costs and/or improving service quality (most of the time). Fortunately, the fine performances of Nadler, Schiff, Pelosi, Schumer, Mueller, Comey, Brennan in the recent Russia/Ukraine investigation/impeachment process gives me full faith that our thoughtful and intelligent public servants will no doubt find the perfect legislative remedy for the AI dilemma you describe and save us all.

  3. AvatarDale

    “The original ATMs were simply video terminals with an ability to dispense cash; all of your interactions with the machine were actually with a mainframe located on the other end of a dedicated phone line.”

    It depends on how far you go back. It was possible to run ATMs in an “Offline” mode, where if the mainframe was offline, the customer could withdraw up to a present offline limit. At each ATM. :-/
    Ripe for fraud once customers worked out what they could do.

    ATM reliability. NCR realised the mistake early on. They over engineered their 1780 range and they rarely broke down. It made it harder to sell newer ATMs. Later models were less rugged.

    • AvatarSobro

      I recall a friend in the late 70’s would overdraw his account by requesting max cash out of several ATM’s Friday after 5:00 PM, buy a half pound of weed, and return the cash on Monday morning. That sort of arbitrage was frowned upon.

      • AvatarDale

        >That sort of arbitrage was frowned upon

        Yes, yes it was. Knew of someone convicted of fraud for doing that sort of thing.

  4. AvatarJohn C.

    On the Miata price. For the key point of the article I agree with you that the Miata is reasonably priced.

    The comparison and bashing of the MGB was off track. The MGB was a much more substantial car in one specific way that would have justified it being at a higher price than Miata. It had the ability to offer factory inline six and V8 engines that allowed the customer to tailor the car to his personal requirements. Such options were not available every year but never so on competitors like the Fiat 124 Spider or the Miata itself. To be able to offer the higher power engines a beefed up and no doubt more expensive differential and gearbox were specified and added to all MGBs.

    I can understand why you want to compare the Miata to the Elan as that was where Mazda stole the style. A better comparison would be the Triumph Spitfire that was smaller, had no optional engines and no kiddy back seats. Its price in 1980 was $7,365. Adjusting for inflation, this is more where they want Miata prices.

    Several replacements of the MGB were considered over the years. The first was in 68 and also would have also replaced the Midget. Being half way between the two in size it could not offer both the roomy engine bay and the little extra space for kiddy seats. It went with the kiddy seats. I am glad the EX234 did not go ahead.

    • AvatarJohn C.

      I am perhaps being overly harsh myself on the Spitfire comparing it to Miata, forgetting that it too offered a inline 6 GT6 version. Sub in MG Midget for it above please. The Midget like the Miata also deleted the wood dash of the Spit or Elan.

      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        Wooden dashes were a casualty of US regulations, unless you were Jaguar or Rolls-Royce with enough spare cash and weight to do veneer over the padding.

        The MGC was no faster than the MGB as it was eventually delivered and the handling was even worse. The MGB-GT was a maintenance nightmare and just slightly faster (in a straight line only) than an NB Miata.

        Most pertinently, the MGB was never designed for those engines. They (sort of) fit only because the platform was designed with sloppy tolerances to begin with.

        I’m very fond of MG cars, having grown up with one in the garage, but they were always trash by any quantitative or qualitative standard you could imagine.

        • AvatarJohn C.

          The Spit had a wood dash to the end in 1980. It was compliant with safety standards.

          Offering engine choices is always a + and there are other measures beside out right speed to judge an engine. All driving is not on a racetrack. The early 4 in the Austin Healy was faster but the 3000 inline 6 was a better choice in actual use. You probably think if offering choices was worthwhile the Japanese would have done it because they are so wonderful. They Idea that they may be cheap or lazy or just uncreative never even considered. BIAS

          “Always trash by any qualitative or quantitative standard” Something you would never say about any car designed in Japan. Not the Datsun F10, Not a 1st gen Prelude, Why? oh yea, see above

          • AvatarCJinSD

            Do you know where the Datsun F10/Cherry/120AF11/etc was successful? England, because the previous Datsun Cherry was recognized as the most reliable car ever sold in Britain. It had about two-thirds as many issues as the previous reliability champion VW Beetle. British cars didn’t work any better in the UK than they worked here. The first generation Prelude wasn’t particularly sporty or roomy, but it was a much better transportation device than an MG.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            It would never be that they were underpricing the better domestic competition even while using their ripped off BMC engines that British old people would be comfortable with. No it would never be that.

          • AvatarCJinSD


            Here’s a group test. The Cherry was the second most expensive of the four cars. Those Datsuns didn’t rack up the fewest break-downs of any car in UK history by being inferior to the domestic competition. Nissan did start with an Austin engine design. Then they improved it. Apparently improving an engine once it is in production wouldn’t be cricket, or else the first MGB wouldn’t have been capable of running rings around the last MGB.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            As would be expected by me, The Hillman won the test. Where was the 1250cc Alegro that would have blown away all these also rans. Not included because it cost more even without other side of the world transport because they have to pay their workers a living wage in a real currency. Notice the article had to adjust the Datsun horsepower to net because they were lying and claiming gross-net confusion. A trick Hyundai would later learn. I was impressed that the Datsun had lots of holes where there could be instruments if the owner would care to add them. Such consideration!

          • AvatarCJinSD

            Here’s the conclusion from a comparison test with your beloved Allegro:

            The Allegro is disappointing, if for no other reason than you would expect a new car like this to set new standards. It doesn’t. Nevertheless it combines an adequate performance with excellent economy, it is fairly roomy and can be quite comfortable on good roads. It is also well equipped. If it felt and sounded more refined it would be hard to beat at the price.

            BTW, the price was exactly the same as the Honda Civic in the comparison, a price Honda could only match by leaving off radial tires. You can spend the rest of your life trying to convince someone else that British cars weren’t inferior to Japanese cars in some imaginary way or other, but it won’t change the fact that the British auto industry failed while the Japanese one prospered. Japanese auto worker wages have been comparable to other first world countries’ for almost forty years too.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Wait so I thought the Datsun was priced high in Britain and yet here is the first string and guess what they are 15%+ higher priced. Here we get the Alegro sneered at in it’s base engine because though it still beat everyone else it wasn’t the big step up from the BMC 1100. Except of course it was because now it offered bigger optional engines that made it motorway capable while the competition machines were not.

            I know you guys chuckle at old Top Gear episodes where they drop pianos on British cars. Boomers shitting on their own white man country. It’s what they do because they themselves were too lazy to measure up to their fathers, so why not reframe their own failing onto their country to take the pressure off. It shouldn’t be conflated with the crazy idea that the crap and thievery of Asia is in any way superior. It would take a lot more than installing radials to make a Civic or an F10 match up to an Alegro with it’s air suspension, its wide engine choice or its available wood and leather interior to make even a simple man feel like a gentleman because he is British and has played by the rules.

          • AvatarCJinSD

            Your rants about Asia would seem more convincing were it not that you drive a Chinese car. If there is one recurring theme in the Allegro reviews, it is that every drive in one would make the owner feel the fool for buying a car with a large square steering wheel. The price difference from the first test to the second had something to do with the seventeen months between articles at a time when the UK was experiencing 9.2% annual inflation. I’m not British, so I’m not trashing my own country. I think you should probably visit the UK again before going on about how it is a ‘white man country.’ And just to be clear that you’ve yet to be right about anything, I’m not a boomer. Incidentally, last time I made the mistake of pointing out your misconceptions, I turned the page as you were suggesting that a Porsche ever had rope drive, or that a Pontiac Tempest ever had a Weissach axle. You were wrong about all that too.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Imagine how foolish the 70s testers would feel if they had to drive a new mid engine Corvette. Thanks to the nothings sneering the customer from most of the Alegro’s run got a round one with the consequence of less knee room. What a service!

            As we all are stuck with our ever more Asian cars with the concomitant wealth transfers and less domestic blue collar work. There should be reflection of how we got there. The only reflection you are going to get from Jack and his colleagues will be less witty versions of falling pianos because they are totally in the employ of Asian masters via advertising and the sponsorship Jack gets from Honda. While their is slight rivalry allowed between the different brands it is very much Japan Inc. Now days Korea has fitted into that game plan as well I bet to Japan’s annoyance. Insolent colony.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            Just for the record:

            * I work for a company where Asian cars of all types make up a tiny fraction of our business. We insure more first-generation Camaros than Japanese cars of all types combined
            * I have no Honda sponsorship
            * on a daily basis I drive a Chevy truck, a Lincoln wagon, and a Mercury sedan.

          • AvatarJohn C.


            Asian thievery. Volvo was sold from Ford during the recession fire sale. Geely only had access to foreign currency to be buying because the government of China signed off. Remember Chinese currency is not readily convertible in the manner of a real country. Then with the Government approval Geely was able to sell junk bonds backed by rights to the Volvo name through Goldman Sachs. That is Goldman Sachs the investment company, not Sachs Goldman the impeachment lawyer. Thus the whole thing sounds more like a mob shakedown than a normal business transaction.Thankfully for Volvo, Geely had zero ability to design a new gen of Volvos so they had to leave in place the Swedish design team and has China has no market for wagons, the wagon I drive was made in Sweden with a higher Swedish parts content than my wife’s former 08 V70 from the Ford era.

            Jack your racing Accords had factory backing which I could understand if you desired that relationship to continue. You have also worked for them in various capacities. I don’t doubt you really like them but you would have to question yourself multiple times before you expressed a negative viewpoint on anything Honda. For example, if you ever had to talk of an early Prelude, you might confine yourself to complimenting the electric sunroof.

            Given the Hagerty connection, I am surprised you went after the MGB that must be a big part of business there as despite the sneers seems to survive 40+ years later in big numbers. Of course the MG Midget shared more of a layout and thus the stature of Miata but you probably had your fathers old MGB window stacker to rift off of and Miata people would get annoyed at a frank but honest comparison of a more proper forbearer with such a truth telling name.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            Not only did Honda not help me go racing, they lobbied PWC to make sure the Accord was slower than the new Civic Type R. So although I passed the factory Civic at the start of the Watkins Glen race they were able to pull out and drive around me 3 laps later.

            I’ve written about Honda’s glass transmissions, rust-prone panels, paper-thin leather, and incompetently matched paint dozens of times. The problem for would be Honda haters is that the cars are often simply much better than the direct competition. This stops being true when you put a V6 and an automatic in the cars. God help the idiot who buys a Ridgeline over a Colorado.

          • AvatarCJinSD

            To be fair, I think CR said the Colorado is literally the least reliable vehicle money will buy. My last job demonstrated that any V6 Honda with VCM is nothing like as durable and dependable as one might expect of a Honda, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t still be a better long-term bet than any ChiCom GM POS.

        • AvatarTYLER MATTIKOW

          I also grew up with MG’s and a bunch of other little British Cars (my parent’s just had their TD restores they owned since the 60’s). I recently sold the very nice MGB I owned since 2010 to get a Morgan. Anyway the MGB was an amazing car when it came out in 1962. Unibody construction gave it a roomy cockpit and big truck (both of which easily bested the Miata). Design wise it is the best looking postwar British car besides the gorgeous E-type and the Big Healeys. The problem was BMC and later BL couldn’t afford to give it a modern engine. The MGC in-line 6 was just too heavy for the chassis and the later Rover/Buick V8 was great but was a small production special that only was available in England toward the end of the MGB production. Unfortunately the US laws necessitating the raised ride height and nasty rubber bumpers as well lack of access to stronger motors such as the Triumph/Saab slant 4 made the later MGB a shell of the earlier one. MG had insignificant passenger sales and lost out in corporate resources in favor of Jaguar and Triumph.

    • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

      The MGB may have had the ability to offer 6s and 8s but it couldn’t run like a Miata, ever. If you account for the fact that Mazda made a functional vehicle then the delta between the supposed MGB Mustang competitor (I guess) is much smaller.

      • AvatarJohn C.

        Install the 1979 GLC engine and the rear beam axle from the 79 RX7 on the Miata and see how it runs with an MGB. You will have no problem finding an old failure of a Japanese man to drop a piano on it.

  5. Avatarhank chinaski

    Miatanet is a funny place, even for a car forum. ND general is split between old farts who probably should have bought a Solara and youngish guys wishing for 300 hp at $25K.
    NC General topics usually boil down to ‘my NC is a real Miata too’. Way back in the before time, one entertaining build thread was about ‘Frankenstein’, an NA T3/T4 hybrid, if memory serves, pushing whatever HP engine management could keep up with in the mid/late 90s. The owner eventually put it on its roof, even posting pics of the staples in his scalp. Fun times.
    If you haven’t looked into them yet, Moti’s seat brackets do exactly what they are designed to.

    My very first assignment, decades ago in ‘programming for non comp-Sci majors’, was a user interface for an ATM, in FORTRAN. Honestly, my skills peaked at scrolling naughty words on the Trash 80s in HS.

    The Chinese social hivemind ‘is’ the human GPT2, and will probably dispose of us by intent or accident.

  6. Avatararbuckle

    For what it’s worth, I expect the same people complaining about the price of the 2020 Miata would have also complained about the price of the of the 1980 MGB and the 1947 MG TC.

    • AvatarCJinSD

      I wasn’t around in 1947, but pretty much everyone who didn’t write for Road & Track thought the MGB offered an absurd lack of value for its price in 1980.

  7. AvatarRyan

    Question: Are the modern generation of coders that unintelligent, or does today’s Agile culture make them lazy?

    This week, our team sponsored a “Hackathon” for teams to clear out their overdue vulnerabilities (I’m not entirely in favor of the concept, as I feel it gives teams a pass for letting their shit slide). Often times, these issues are some sort of OWASP Top 10 vulnerability where the dev team should’ve known well enough than to push such garbage code.

    One guy gets up to demonstrate his “fix” for a session management issue. Long story short, his fix involved encrypting a particular string using SecretKeySpec. After bragging about his use of encryption, It turns out he hard coded the key in the config file. The worst part about it is that he didn’t understand why this wasn’t going to fly…

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I assume there’s been no change in basic human capacity between 1975 and now, so it has to be a system that:

      * discourages high-IQ western kids from entering the business
      * replaced them with Indians who think of it as a trade and not a calling
      * teaches high level languages and speed of development at the expense of truly understanding systems or coding
      * cherishes Russian-doll virtualization and house-of-cards “stacks”
      * no longer offers much chance for an individual coder to make a difference.

      God knows I wouldn’t get into the business now as a 20 year old. It’s become factory labor only you get RSI instead of back pain.

      • AvatarDaniel J

        I think most C.S and computer engineering majors are still getting the same level of schooling they got 20 years ago. What I am seeing is more graduates with Software Engineering degrees who’ve spent more time on dealing in Software processes and Devops that have barely written any real software.

        • AvatarOne Leg at a Time

          I can’t speak to that, but most the best CS guys I know ended up in entertainment (one at Disney, and the rest in the Gaming Industry). The only exception is my brother-in-law (programmer / architecture), who works in health care.

          All Big Money businesses, and only one has to deal with H1B programmers. (you can probably guess)

          I think that is what the problem is – elegant programming is not cheap, and infrastructure programming is not interesting. The programmers with a choice do things that are interesting, and pay well.

          Outside of entertainment, it pays better to be in management than to sling code, so that is were the ‘money motivated’ programmers move. I assume the exception is of a dwindling pool of freelance programmers who have the ability to drop a job so they can participate in an auto race.

          It concerns me that we are outsourcing the capability to do ‘uninteresting’ code; and that the programming running our infrastructure is either old, and written in ancient languages with horrible documentation, or fragile ‘brute force’ code with horrible documentation.

          I am beginning to think that the ‘preppers’ may have it right.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            I see (and appreciate) where you’re coming from but it has ever been thus — at least since many companies moved to UNIX from System/360 in the eighties. At that point we went from judging our computing infrastructure by its RESULTS to a bizarre Freakanomics valuation that takes into account resume-friendliness, vendor kickbacks, perceived conformance with industry norms, and the batshit/ratshit stupidity of the Gartner Reports.

            Real-time programming is still a thing — and the oft-quoted canard about there being a need for about five computers is truer than we know. Much of the computing world is complete gingerbread and could be dispensed with at no cost to society.

          • AvatarDaniel J


            I did real time programming for over 12 years. Most schools have relegated this to Computer Engineering degrees, and that’s what I have or EEs who’ve learned to code firmware. I worked on PowerPCs with ThreadX OS and several M68k freescale processors running uCLinux/Linux. I also did projects with Luminary/TI 16 bit controllers with 32K Ram. I Did lots of work with the eCos operating system on an ARM A7. All the programming I did was in the video control and distribution market where real time is a must.

            The city I live in is heavy defense and most real time stuff in the DOD side here is VXworks.

            I am now doing stuff in C# for what it’s worth.

            The disconnect I see is that there is little emphasis, especially on the low level side of things, is teaching at the college level how to program well. I had to learn SOLID and programming pattern principals from a boss who had a master’s degree in CS. In higher level languages hiring manager expect folks to know what those are right out of college.

            Over the years what I’ve ran into is a bunch of programmers who understand computer operations and low level code but anything at a higher level will write spaghetti mess. And then there are programmers who write elegant code utilizing the power of the language but have zero idea what the code does at runtime.

            I think this is a flaw in starting off in higher level languages in CS/SE curriculums and for CE curriculums not spending enough time on programming patterns and principals.

          • AvatarEric H

            I’ve been programming professionally since the late ’80s, 22 years in entertainment and another decade or so in corporate places doing embedded driver and kernel stuff. I specialize in the hard stuff, drivers, hardware interfacing, high performance, real time, parallel optimization and the like.
            In all that time it was rare to find anyone who knew about how computers and CPUs actually functioned.
            My current place of work (an AI startup) was founded by a couple of professors from local universities with their best former students.
            I’m one of about 20 people there and one of two without a PHD or on the PHD program. Us two non-PHD guys are are the only ones who actually know anything about computers. It seems that schools are ignoring how to understand computer science as most of their students will never have to deal with it. Of the 17 years I spent writing games there were only a dozen or so people I worked with who actually knew how to make a game console work, and only a couple of them could do what I could with optimization.

            Real programming knowledge has always been a rare thing. If you’re actually good at the hard stuff you’ll never want for employment.

  8. Avatarscotten

    I still really wish they made a Miata coupe – I’ve owned a number of convertibles and come to realize I’m not a convertible person.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I’m not sure why they haven’t. The RF is a real falls-between-two-stools solution that adds a lot of weight to the car without much payoff.

    • AvatarEric H

      Lack of a real coupe is the only reason I don’t own one.
      I don’t like convertibles and sun glare from overhead gives me a headache.
      I guess I’ll stick to my 93 240SX coupe.

  9. AvatarComfortablyNumb

    I wonder what effective sabotage of our new robotic overlords would look like – not that I would ever condone it, of course. Mechanical methods aren’t very practical. Small-scale, ad hoc software bugs would probably work, but would require some decent coding chops. A large-scale, Death Star assault-type takedown would be logistically difficult to pull off.

    • AvatarJohn C.

      The answer of course to avoid sabotage is to put the Japanese in charge of our overlord system. Then Americans like CJ and Jack will raise their right hand and swear that everything will be wonderful and indeed nirvana like. Then we can all join you and become comfortably numb. So exciting!

  10. Avatarhank chinaski

    Threads like that abound on miataforum. Most of them can be boiled down to ‘what can we do to make the Miata not a Miata’. “It needs to be bigger/taller/heavier/more comfortable/have a turbo/ V6/ AWD/20″ wheels/hybrid/more cupholders/auto lane control” whatever. Occasionally someone will respond with the reasonable response of ‘well go buy a Mustang/Boxster/Vette/WRX/CUV’ and be shouted down or lead to thread locking. It wouldn’t surprise me if half are started by factory sockpuppets.

    Perhaps a true coupe would require all new crash testing and the attendant expense. ‘Well go buy a Toyoburu’ would be the easy answer. The old NA/NB answer was ‘get a removable hard top and rip out the soft one’. The RF may have been born for the gee-whiz factor. Perhaps it required the least redesign of ‘hard parts’ to build.

    How the ND came to be in its pure iteration, given current market demands, even from its own often conflicted community, is a miracle. The biggest demand the factory caved to was the addition of the 2.0, which is likely related to its occasional transmission failures ( the other common forum thread topic). I fear that we won’t see its like again.

    If I were to put one in a time capsule for my nephew to race gleaming alloy air cars, it would be a ND1, 1.5 MT Sport. No touchscreens, nannies, or rearview cameras.


    BTW I recently left my IT job after eleven years and moved from the New York metro area to Denver. In my prior position I was director of IT at a Hedge fund / prop trading firm. I worked with genuine geniuses and understood from the start that I was never the smartest person in the room. Nonetheless I rose to Director of Technology. One of my strengths was that I was very good at pointing out how frequently we could grab preexisting or off the shelf tools and libraries rather than build from scratch just because we could.
    Anyway I been going through interviews for many companies looking for a new job for the last six months and I’ve interviewed with so many morons who just want to prove how smart they are by doing things in the most complicated stupid ways possible.
    I do disagree with you on the cloud, I have worked with AWS and Azure, done well it gives you a ton of versatility. I don’t miss the three hardware lifecycle.

  12. AvatarShortest Circuit

    I’m a bit skeptical, not really of the inevitable – if slow – arrival of our GI overlords, but the self-ordained ministers of it. Google just last year got their hands on the patient database of a fairly large insurance firm supposedly for the noble goal of developing a ML tool that can predict (or diagnose) illnesses better than your regular doctor. The leader of the project is an MD that sounds really… worrying to say the least. Barring any sane concerns regarding privacy, statements like “well, looking at our results it would be AGAINST my Hyppocratic Oath to limit access to any data” make me think data security is nowhere near in the top 3 goals.
    “Right, who’s got a boil on his Semprini, then?”


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