21 – Sorry, No Agenda!

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Big Dog: “Hi Little Dog. We’re going out to dinner tonight with your friend Fluffy and her family. So, please be ready at five.” 

Little Dog: “Okay. Nice! Thanks Big Dog! That sounds like fun! I really like Fluffy.” 

Big Dog: “So I’ve noticed.” 

Little Dog: “Have we decided on the agenda?” 

BIg Dog: “Agenda? What do you mean? There’s no agenda. We’re just going out to have fun.”

Little Dog: “But, what will we talk about? We need to have a list of topics. Better to be prepared.” 

BIg Dog: “Prepared for what? This isn’t a business meeting. And even if it was, an agenda doesn’t mean that there can’t be a bit of spontaneous conversation. Many business meetings thrive on out-of-the-box thinking and brain-storming. The key is to balance the spontaneity with some structure. At any rate, this isn’t a business meeting. It’s a social gathering.”

Little Dog: “Yes, but it still seems best to prepare something in advance. What if the conversation runs dry? What if everybody just sits there and stares at each other?” 

Big Dog: “Tell me, Little Dog, have you ever been to dinner with a group of canines who never utter a single word and just stare at each other?” 

Little Dog: “Well, there was that dog monastery I visited. Nobody spoke a word at dinner. They mostly stared at their plates. Haha, that reminds me of a funny joke! What’s the difference between an extroverted mathematician and an introverted one?” 

Big Dog: “I have no idea.”

Little Dog: “The extroverted mathematician stares at the other guy’s paws instead of their own! Ha, ha! Get it?” 

BIg Dog: (sigh)

Little Dog: “So, what do you think?” 

Big Dog: “Think about what?” 

Little Dog: “The agenda.”

Big Dog: “Little Dog, have you been following our line of conversation just now? Let’s examine it for a moment. You just talked about monks and then told a joke about mathematicians. How could you have predicted that? The joy of life comes from a bit of spontaneity. We dogs crave new adventures. We don’t want to have stale conversations from a prearranged script. What a boring dinner that would be! Fluffy and her parents would never invite us out again.” 

Little Dog: “Oh, darn. This is really disappointing.” 

Big Dog: “What’s the problem? Why the long snout?” 

Little Dog: “Well, you see, I’ve been working on this new project and so far it isn’t going too well. I was sort of hoping to test things out tonight at dinner.”

Big Dog: “Uh oh. This sounds ominous. The last time you used our friends as test subjects, it didn’t go over too well. The Beagle family is still not speaking to us.”

Little Dog: “No, no, this doesn’t involve any sort of physical intrusion.”

Big Dog: “Good. Sticking olfactory machine probes up your fellow canine’s anal cavities isn’t exactly respectful dinner behavior. By the way, how is that project going?” 

Little Dog: “Great! I’m making excellent progress! I already have a prototype of my ‘Robotic Canine Butt Sniffer’, patent pending, haha. I even applied for venture capital funding! I’m going to make a fortune! I got the idea from an article in the DogWorld Tattler. I told Gramps about it, but he was skeptical as always.”

Big Dog: “Wonderful. Maybe you can give some of your millions to the Beagle family to make amends. So, what exactly is this new project that you’re disappointed about?” 

Little Dog: “Well, I used this amazing technique called machine learning with back propagation to build my automatic butt sniffer, so I was hoping to use the same technique for my new project.” 

Big Dog: “Which is?” 

Little Dog: “It’s called the Friendly Dinner Companion. I’m programming a robotic dog that can serve as an entertaining, fun, and fascinating dinner companion! Think of the market for it! There are so many lonely dogs in the world. Now, they can have a friend delivered to their door in a big box, bubble wrap included!” 

Big Dog: “And, let me guess. You were hoping to use Fluffy’s family for some guidance on how to program this thing?” 

Little Dog: “Exactly! I figured maybe I could try it out on them at dinner tonight!” 

Big Dog: “That sounds like an epically bad idea.” 

Little Dog: “Well, my machine gets trained through a process called reinforcement learning. It tries out various lines of conversation and sees how everyone reacts to it. For the comments that get a more positive reaction, it will reinforce that type of behavior. So, I need some experimental subjects for my robot to gain experience on.” 

Big Dog: “So, let me get this straight. You’re going to potentially insult Fluffy’s family by having the robot make inappropriate comments and hope your stupid machine figures out which topics to avoid?” 

Little Dog: “Well, that’s why I was hoping for some sort of agenda. That way I could initialize my machine to start with some nifty topics.”

Big Dog: “Little Dog, dinner conversations don’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way. That’s why it’s impossible to predict the future. Canine behavior is too complex to put in a box. That’s why so-called experts are incredibly bad at predicting the future. Whether it’s the economy, or the weather, or the future price of biscuits, the experts never get it right. I have an idea. Why don’t you program your robotic dog to just sit there instead, and carefully listen? That might help it figure out how to behave.”

Little Dog: “Oh, you mean supervised learning. I suppose I could try that to start.” 

Big Dog: “Or better yet, perhaps you could leave your robot dog at home. I’m sure that Fluffy and her family would appreciate that spontaneous gesture on your part. After all, if you’re foolish enough to try to program canine behavior, then maybe you should test it on yourself and spare the rest of us a lot of aggravation. And consider this: Do you really want to risk Fluffy not speaking to you again?” 

Little Dog: “Darn. Good point. Woof!”

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