Nugget #2: Man-Computer Symbiosis

I picked several sentences from the reading, but most of them are not in sequence:

That would be the case it; in gathering data on which to base a decision, for example, both the man and the computer came up with relevant precedents from experience and if the computer then suggested a course of action that agreed with the man’s intuitive judgment. […] Men will set the goals and supply the motivations, of course, at least in the early years. They will formulate hypotheses. […] The information-processing equipment, for its part, will convert hypotheses into testable models and then test the models against data (which the human operator may designate roughly and identify as relevant when the computer presents them for his approval). 

These passages sounded a lot like MyFitnessPal to me. If you’re not familiar with this app/website, I’ll explain. MyFitnessPal is a huge database of basically every food known to man. A lot of people use it to lose weight, but others use it to gain weight as well (bodybuilders, athletes, etc). By inputting into the app everything you eat, MyFitnessPal will help you keep track of the calories consumed on any given day and also your macro-nutrients (fat, protein and carbs). It’s a great tool for weight loss because there’s no method or diet more effective than simple math and science: to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. Since the app has SO MANY foods already on the database, it’s really easy to log and control your caloric input and expenditure, thus making it easier to lose weight.

I use MyFitnessPal every day to keep track of my calories for the day. When you first download the app, you set your current weight and weight loss goals, and then the app calculates how many calories you can have each day in order to lose X amount each week. Once you’ve been using it for a while, the app will learn your usual food choices and suggest pairings (for example, apple and peanut butter) and serving sizes. In this sense, the app (computer) and I work together, me by logging and the app by making it easier by suggesting foods I eat often so I don’t have to type everything again. If, for some reason, the app’s suggestion is not exactly what I need, I use my judgment to find a better option in the database.

Another passage in the nugget above that relates to MyFitnessPal is the second one.  Let’s say I decide to eat more than my allowance for the day but don’t log it on the app. The app doesn’t “know” that I ate an extra piece of chocolate if I don’t log it, but my body will metabolize it regardless of that. So, in my food diary, I’ll have a perfect week of sticking to my allowance when in reality I didn’t. Thus, I need to “supply the motivation” for losing weight, and the app is just a tool that helps me but cannot force me to do anything.

The next passage in my nugget describes MyFitnessPal perfectly. As I mentioned, when you start using the app you set your goal weight and it will give you a set amount of calories for each day so you lose X amount of weight each week. When you finish logging for the day, the app gives you a prediction of how much you would weigh if you ate that same amount of calories every day for 5 weeks. So, the app uses data (your food diary) to draw a hypothesis. However, and this is when a lot of people get frustrated with MyFitnessPal, just because the app says you will weigh X pounds doesn’t mean you really will. Life happens. Users need to keep in mind that the app can only work with the data you give it. If you forget to log one single grape your data will be off, and you most likely won’t weigh as much (or as little) as the app says you should. The human component of this team still needs to use his better judgment and realize that the app gives estimates and not predictions out of a crystal ball, and thus take such estimates with a grain of salt.

I realize this connection is a bit of a stretch because nobody has a computer attached to their brains calculating how many calories a banana has, and who would ever want that anyways? With that being said, Licklider’s vision has been fulfilled. From the goofy Google Glass to headsets that are controlled by brain waves, man-computer symbiosis is here and it’s only a matter of time before this technology improves and is applied to new areas.


I found three posts from my colleagues that were different than mine in content because they focused on how the man-computer symbiosis affects education.

Jerrit wrote about how easier it is to take notes during lectures with his tablet because he has the option to hand write them with a stylus pen and the tablet will convert it to digital notes (at least that’s what I understood). How cool is that? I’m still relying on good ol’ pen and paper to take notes, because I feel retain information better that way – and science agrees with me. But Jerrit’s way seems to be pretty similar, since he is taking notes by hand, with the advantage of not having to decipher them later because the tablet digitalizes them. I’ll have to give that some thought!

Katelyn and Aysha both wrote about Google on their nuggets. They seem to have different opinions about the “almighty”, though. Katelyn’s post reminded of a text we read on UNIV 112, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, by Nicholas Carr. It’s so easy to just google something instead of looking for a textbook, a dictionary or any other form of print media. I personally don’t believe Google is making us stupid, perhaps just a bit lazy? I don’t know, I find it awesome to have the answer to EVERYTHING (ok maybe not everything) on the tip of my iPhone holding fingers, and Katelyn makes a great point about how we might not need textbooks for classes anymore because we have Google. Hey, I’m down for that! Aysha seems to agree with me on her post: she finds it very easy to look for any kind of info on Google – we just need to be careful about trusting what it shows us.

3 thoughts on “Nugget #2: Man-Computer Symbiosis

  1. I really love this post! I tried myfitnesspal once — and it frustrated me for exactly some of the reasons you point out here. I didn’t like the fact that it used current data to PROJECT what I will weigh in the future. I’d read it and say, “yeah right” — because the projected weight was ALWAYS LOWER than I knew I could attain. How could the projections be consistently lower — and the true weight NEVER correspond to those projections? I felt like the data was fooling me —-

    And it also felt reductive — like you said, “life happens.” : )

    You do a great job linking the nugget theories to the actual workings of this app. — an excellent model for all #thoughtvectors bloggers! : )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *