Prime Ministers, Presidents, and The Great Mughal of India
It baffles me that our government believes it can outwit the maths of contagion. Well, even the Great #Mughal thought so too when rewarding the inventor of the game of #chess.
I’m relatively innumerate, but I’ve always held this simple parable of ruination at the forefront of my mind. I’ve used it with friends and family to describe Moore’s Law, or how the #Covid-19 pandemic might overwhelm by force of numbers:
“The scholar who invented chess prostrates himself before the Great Mughal, to whom he has presented his brilliant invention.
Asked by The Great Mughal what he desires, the emperor is taken aback by the scholar’s reply:
Your Highness, I desire just this single grain of rice, placed on the first square of my board, then doubled on each succeeding square, and the accumulated proceeds from each square.
Laughing at such eccentricity, the emperor grants the scholar’s wish instantly, believing that his gift is worth nothing more than a small bag of rice.
But bound by his promise, that summer the entire rice harvest of the empire is given to the scholar, and the Great Mughal is ruined.”
That parable describes very neatly the exponential curve. As you double your squares of rice up to 32nd square of the 64 squares of a chessboard, you’re in the small brown bag of rice territory.
As soon as you cross the threshold into the other half of the board, you’re in ruination territory, and warehouses overflowing with rice. The numbers run amok.
On the first day, an infected person infects one other person. On the second day, they both infect one other person. On the third day, each person infects one person. By the tenth day, more than 1,000 people have been infected, and by the 20th day, more than 1 million (still a sack of rice).
This parable is bracketed by all sorts of considerations of course:
I don’t have the very best information at my fingertips, a Mughal’s court of advisors, strategists, bankers, and agronomists. I must go by instinct, the wisdom of years, and a healthy suspicion of political leadership, given the past two decades of our embroilment in the follies of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beyond just squares on a board, chess is a game of strategy, but fighting Covid-19 is a game where the rules are not yet known.
Contagion has no friends, and it’s own hidden logic that will only be revealed at the end of the chess board.
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