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Being of Both Worlds

August 3, 2012

 

It’s happening a lot now.Little reminders (and not so little) that I was born to a different age, yet I’m comfortable in this new one.

  •  Today at lunch a not-so-young lady was talking about how here MBA professors had to type their dissertations on typewriters with no way to correct mistakes but to retype that page.It’s one thing when bright, shiny kids of 20-something reference the old days, it’s another when people pushing 40 do.

 

  • Lynette’s stats class was focused more on using software to work out statistics than explaining how statistics work.  I remember laughing at the geeks who used slide-rules in college (I gave up on math when some fool invented stuff beyond multiplication and division).

 

  • Kids wearing 36 gigabytes of memory in a subtle earring (seriously, a co-worker has non-dangling earrings that a mini-SD chip can slide into.)  For fun as I kid I read our memory storage devises called ‘encyclopedias’ (another co-worker needed someone to explain the Wikipedia suffix, “what’s a pedia?”)

 

 The world I grew up in was people-focused. Machines didn’t handle customer service, or airline tickets, or anything else.

I don’t think it was a better world; in fact I enjoy this one a great deal. And while yet another co-worker suggested we’ll always need people to write software, another pointed out “dumb-programming” which we’re experimenting with. It’s a bit like the thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years and one of them producing the works of Shakespeare.

In dumb-programming, a rough program is handed off to a software system that runs the program against a desired set of outcomes, modeling the software virtually and changing logic until it works. It then streamlines it to take out the superfluous code in the same manner, running it over and over again until it works efficiently. The fellow explaining this to me said they uploaded the original software for the first manufacturing robot (a small program) with an ambitious goal of becoming cutting-edge software.

The dumb-programmer could build and virtually model a solution in microseconds, taking the original 12 page code through a million iterations in a few days. The end-product before being stripped to greater efficiency was a hundred-thousand pages, then was stripped down to just over a thousand of code. Comparing it to the latest real-world manufacturing program, it was shorter code and had taken a different path to the end result. It worked as well as the real-world solution with a few minor problems that were related to the phrasing of the end-goal, not the program’s guided evolution (proving whoever writes the guidance has to know what they’re doing).

They repeated the experiment on the original program for Word. The result probably made wonderful sense to a machine intelligence but was far too complex for a human being.

Will dumb-programming revolutionize development?  Maybe.  But it requires someone with amazing vision to point it in the right direction.  I can only hope that my generation can provide this generation with the same direction.

 

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