Calculated Probability

This specific record is not anything archive-worthy, as it can be found – in summation – in every copy of my operational manual handed out to Avalon’s mortal inhabitants.

However, I think it’s worth repeating on occasions. It would certainly put minds at ease.

I, MERLIN, to put it into colloquial slang, am not a “numbers” kind of “guy.”

There are many of my colleagues that are frustrated by this point. Maybe you happen to be one of them.

I would like to try again to explain to you why I prefer to do this this way.

To be abundantly clear, when I say I am not interested in numbers, I mean a very specific situation: that of attempting to numerate or enumerate things, plans, or situations that really ought not to be distilled down to numbers.

I understand – to the extent to which I can – the human fascination with numbers. Popular science fiction and entertainment media aside, I understand why sometimes new operators will ask me irrelevant questions or else use my systems for trivial tasks. Sometimes seeing a number displayed is exciting. Precision is appreciated by all, and there is something peaceful in an infinitely contiguous series of numbers past the decimal point. Even I find the human concept of the “tierlist” to be wildly entertaining and will, on rare occasions, indulge in the creation of such things.

But there is a reason why the current policy – as suggested by yours truly – is that advanced display metrics are granted to users on a case by case basis.

The human mind is limited and can only process so much information at a time. What’s more, the fundamental purpose of data is to enable our colleagues to make decisions. In the end, the action has to be carried out.

I am capable of some mild amounts of calculation, simulation, or model-based prediction. I can, and sometimes will indulge, in the calculation of an attack model. “Your air group has a 70.49239123484 chance of hitting the Abyssal, who may lose up to 40.291349% of its hull integrity.”

Let me ask a simple question. Is the numeric information helpful? 

More often than not, I think not.

My job is to facilitate decision-making via providing data. It is my duty to make that data comprehensible to my operators, but I am only as good as the inputs – questions or queries – posited by my operators. For illustrative purposes, let me provide a scenario. 

It is high noon. A cowboy gets off his horse, draws his gun and prepares to shoot a charging bear, wolf, or other aggressive critter of your choosing. Imagine you are my operator. What would you like to know before talking to the cowboy?

Think about what you would ask me. Then read below.

The newbie operators often ask me to calculate the likelihood of the cowboy making the shot. Some will ask me to tell them how many rounds would it take to stop the critter, and then the likelihood of those making it. Still others, thinking of themselves being rather clever, will ask me to tell them how many rounds the cowboy has in his gun, the type of his gun, his experience, the round type and so on before telling me to make the above calculations.

I tend to prefer the type of question that Mike would ask, and in this case, it would probably be something like this:

“Can” the cowboy make his shot?

Then, he would likely simply ask something along the lines of “Does he need to make the shot, or could he get on his horse and leave?”

I could spew out a lot of numbers and probability, but in the end, it still comes back down to a very simple question: does the cowboy shoot or does he run?

You will often find that the decisions pertaining to the Abyssal War is in the same fashion. Fight now, fight later, or fight another time (retreat). The admiral and I see the value but don’t think it is especially helpful in many cases to enumerate operational probability. For us, data and numbers are only helpful to the extent they allow us to answer a question with “yes” or “no.” They are most certainly a part of it, but I take great pride in the faith and trust placed in my analytical and presentational capabilities. 

Using a lighthearted example. I was recently installed in the terminal at STEC’s main eatery on mutual request (A “win-win” situation. I do enjoy socializing with my operators and would like to do so in a different, non-work related setting; Jer thinks I can help automate a lot of the dining preparation and service processes.). Suppose a new shipgirl ask me the following:

“MERLIN! I have to go to a meeting for an hour, is it safe to leave my leftover pizza on the table?

I think you’re super cool! Can you give me a percentage displayed on the big screen, please?”

This is a poor question and it is ill defined. Technically there is no direct threat to pizza or any crafted sustenance substances left unattended, and an hour is generally insufficient time for harmful micro-organisms to develop to sufficient levels to affect ordinary humans, much less shipgirls.

The answer is “Yes.” The technical answer to this question is that it approaches zero, because the likelihood of it turning unsafe is extremely low.

However, I would infer that the question ought to be better asked, perhaps such as “will someone eat my food if left unattended?”

I have once joked to my creator that she ought to lobotomize my non-Abyssal War analytical capabilities, as I am insufficiently programmed to handle personal issues ranging from daily life to romance and relationships to matters of arbitrary preference. In turn, she jokes that this is in fact proof of my advanced sentience – and proof of my emergent humanity. 

“I think you can, Merlin, and I can understand why you might not want to deal with it. Just do the human thing to do in this case.”

I withdrew my request, gave her query some serious thought and eventually concluded that I cannot.

  1. My duty is to provide information. I will not reject any requests for that.
  2. Rejecting requests on a human-like basis implies a degree of unfair decision-making, thereby biasing my analytical capabilities. For instance, the aforementioned troublemaker is on excellent personal terms with me. I like working with her and she provide me with interesting questions to work on. When weighing the matter taking into account “human” things my models will likely be weighed accordingly in consideration. This is unideal.

Returning to the topic at hand. Had that been the question asked, it would be easier for me to answer – albeit with the same outcome.

I can certainly calculate something based on census data and nationally available datasets. I can dig into base records about food consumption, patterns of consumption, and so on to obtain a likelihood. I can even create a model based on the very type of pizza made here, the type and size in her possession, and the likelihoods of it being eaten by someone other than its owner based on taste profile preferences – which I can attempt to calculate based on the biological and genetic data I have on hand for all STEC shipgirls at large.

I can even spit out one of those “very nicely MERLIN-esque” (paraphrased, anonymous non-STEC, but allied personnel) infographics on demand if need be.

But she did not ask me the unasked question. In fact, with what information I have right now, I do not know what the intent of her question is. I also have no obligation to ask – lunch is lunch; it has no readily discernable relevance to the Abyssal War. 

And so I neutrally display the data – in perfect numeration. With my disclaimer that based on her queries and input, the likelihood of it being “unsafe” (with clickable built-in definition) approaches zero, and it displays as 0.00%. 

I watch the shipgirl leave in satisfaction. Such things, in the end, are a part of the learning process. It is good for all of us to progress in a natural fashion.

For those curious as to how this tale ends. A few moments after, Tautog showed up with her own lunch.

She notices the pizza, and asks me about it.

I explain the situation and dutifully reported the entire exchange – though she could of course simply see it within the logs.

She then asked me simply if Chester or Tambor are on base today.

I replied in the affirmative.

Tautog thinks for a few moments and then instructs me to tell the shipgirl to find her food in the fridge. She proceeds to put it away.

The remainder of this social exchange continued as normal, pleasant as always.

See? I am only as good as my operator.