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Alias (5735)

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Journal of Alias (5735)

Tuesday May 12, 2009
12:38 PM

Optimizing for wetware

[ #38962 ]

After watching a curious TED talk about designing office chairs that compensate for the fact that most people don't ever adjust their office chairs (and in some cases, don't know HOW to adjust their office chair) I thought I'd take a look at his website to see how much his adaptive chair costs.

WAY more than I can afford.

However, in the PDF that described the chair pricing I discovered an interesting quote that rings true for much of the work that I do.

Civilization advances by the number
of important operations which we can
perform without thinking about them.

Alfred North Whitehead

I know enough math to know I'm not a mathematician, but whenever I'm trying to push an idea on the world I'm much more comfortable and confident when I have backup from mathematicians (like the Perl non-parsability proof I was generously gifted).

Side Note: If there are any mathematicians (or economists) that would like to help with a formal proof of Trailer Theory, I'd love to hear from you. It sounds like a great candidate for winning the Ignobel Prize in Economics :)

In any case, it cheers me to discover that my idea of "Optimising for Wetware" as a key aspect of software progress, of intentionally and systematically reducing the amount of thinking required by the user, is nothing but a rediscovery of an opinion by no less than one of the authors of Principia Mathematica.

Thought about in civilisation terms, it becomes much easier to explain that the "dumbing down" of software with abstractions and encapsulation is not a negative thing. If the solution is done completely and well, we instead elevate everyone to gain the abilities of the previous elite. And by freeing up the elite from having to expend mental effort on the problem, we give them the opportunity to push forwards to the next level of ability.

The problem only occurs when the abstraction used to simplify are flawed and don't hold up to pressure or scrutiny (such as the now famous mortgage security valuation math/algorithm that helped caused the Great Recession), or when the process involved is inherently unable to be replicated (for example, any new software which gives you an advantage in predicting the stock market no longer works once everyone has it).

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