[Algorithms and heuristics] are very important in cybernetics, for in dealing with unthinkable systems it is normally impossible to give a full specification of a goal, and therefore impossible to prescribe an algorithm. But it is not usually too difficult to prescribe a class of goals, so that moving in some general description will leave you better off (by some definite criterion) than you were before. To think in terms of heuristics rather than algorithms is at once a way of coping with proliferating variety. Instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat; you then ride on the dynamics of the system in the direction you want to go.
These two techniques for organizing control in a system of proliferating variety are really rather dissimilar. The strange thing is that we tend to live our lives by heuristics, and to try and control them by algorithms. Our general endeavor is to survive, yet we specify in detail (‘catch the 8:45 train’, ‘ask for a raise’) how to get to this unspecified and unspecifiable goal. We certainly need these algorithms, in order to live coherently; but we also need heuristics — and we are rarely conscious of them. This is because our education is planned around detailed analysis: we do not (we learn) really understand things unless we can specify their infrastructure. The point came up before in the discussion of transfer functions, and now it comes up again in connection with goals. […] Birds evolved from reptiles, it seems. Did a representative body of lizards pass a resolution to learn to fly? If so, by what means could the lizards have organized their genetic variety to grow wings? One has only to say such things to recognize them as ridiculous — but the birds are flying this evening outside my window. This is because heuristics work while we are still sucking the pencil which would like to prescribe an algorithm.
Stafford Beer, “Brain of the Firm,” 1972.
1972, folks. “This is because heuristics work while we are still sucking the pencil which would like to prescribe an algorithm.”
One for would-be CompSci students.
Great insight!(via futuramb)
This wonderfully describes the contradiction of our existence:
The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.
So much truth
I’m still laughing at the toothpaste. That’s exactly how it goes for every tube.
These are great graphs!
Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.
While the press haven’t asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself.
The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous… and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.
This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from G.K. Chesterton: “Fairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
Will always reblog this quote.
The world is rated R
Above: American prisons. Below: Swedish prison
While the land of the free is spending more on criminals and locking more people up than ever, Sweden is eliminating prisons and minimizing its prison population. The Swedes were able to close four prisons when its inmate population dropped 6% between 2011 and 2012.
Here’s how they did it.
Librarians = “critical first referrers.”
“We are very much looking to connect with libraries. We believe that librarians are critical first referrers to information and community resources. By making it as easy as possible for librarians to share information about summer meals, we believe we can dramatically increase community awareness of the program and the number of youth who access the meals,” Marnie Webb, spokesperson for Caravan Studios, the creator of Range, a mobile app to find where summer meals are served.