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Mathematical Modeling Used To Track and Label

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the keep-your-hands-offa-my-numbers dept.

Math 83

Anti-Globalism writes to tell us that in a new book titled The Numerati, author Stephen Baker introduces us to some of the math wizardry that is used to label or track our movements through purchases, phone calls, internet usage and other habits. "One of the most promising laboratories for the Numerati is the workplace, where every keystroke, click, and e-mail can be studied. In a chapter called "The Worker," Baker travels to IBM, where mathematicians are building predictive models of their own colleagues. An excerpt: 'Samer Takriti, a Syrian-born mathematician. He heads up a team that's piecing together mathematical models of 50,000 of IBM's tech consultants. The idea is to pile up inventories of all of their skills and then to calculate, mathematically, how best to deploy them. I'm here to find out how Takriti and his colleagues go about turning IBM's workers into numbers. If this works, his team plans to apply these models to other companies and to automate much of what we now call management.'"

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Goatse (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24829603)

Goatse [goatse.cz]

Re:Goatse (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24829903)

Gee, thanks for that.

Seeing a man with his anus stretched open really made my day, asshole.

pseudo-continuance (5, Funny)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829629)

If this works, his team plans to apply these models to other companies and to automate much of what we now call management...

...The management function is reputed to make heavy use of the functions 'rand'.

Re:pseudo-continuance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24829677)

nah they prefer Work.outsourceTo('india'); lately

Re:pseudo-continuance (2, Funny)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829731)

Look at positive side. Finally, I would get manager, who knows 2 plus 2 = 4.

Re:pseudo-continuance (1)

umghhh (965931) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829943)

judging on the fact that QA is not a major issue or is one definitely less important than getting an outsourcing (or any such) bonus I would be rather skeptical about software's ability to calculate anything correctly. OTOH some hard coded values could help here: if issue is not found in answers DB give '42' as an answer.

Re:pseudo-continuance (2, Funny)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829955)

When I was a consultant, one of my mangers was more a garbage collector: he tagged me "CORBA expert" and was ready to sell me on that ground after I added a new function (mostly by copy-paste) in an object's IDL.

I hate to break this to you (-1, Flamebait)

thammoud (193905) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829641)

But IBM consultants have always been just "numbers" to both IBM and the client. Some of the most overpriced and useless not matter what equation you plug their skill set in.

You, sir, are a flamebaiter, and I will NOT bite (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24829853)

And don't you dare call IBM a crooked company. Yes, goddammit the truth does hurt so STOP IT !! But you have to make money some how, don't you? It's not like we're Russia and can just squeeze the stupid and weak masses.

KLOC days.... (1)

BitterOldGUy (1330491) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829927)

IBM has always been the numbers. I remember our productivity being measured by KLOCS (thousands of lines of code). Which of course, meant that cutting and pasting code meant you did more work and the bigger and fatter your code the better you did. Efficiency? Ha!

There's an old story back in the MS/IBM days of an MS wizkid rewriting some code to make it more efficient, faster and subsequently had less lines of code. Technically, according the KLOC model, he did negative work.

First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24829645)

First Post!

Not a chance. (4, Interesting)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829655)

If managemenet was really about optimizing resources, it would have been outsourced a long time ago.

As a non-manager, I can tell you the most important job of management is to deal with the unquantifiable: engineers need to feel unique and usefull and they need opportunities to work on new things (and/or be promoted) from time to time. A good manager knows his guys are much more than their previous experiences (and somtimes slightly less too).

Re:Not a chance. (4, Interesting)

slim (1652) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829891)

All true. But parts of IBM (and I'm sure the rest of the corporate world) have already forgotten that.

I used to work there, and there was a big effort on to have employees maintain a 'skills' database. It was clear that despite running top class courses on teams, there were influential people in the corporation who saw staff as being nothing more than a set of D&D type stats who could be deployed like pawns.

And hey, the losses in morale, effectiveness and customer satisfaction might be offset by the cost reductions. Who knows. I'm just glad I don't work there any more. (Which is quite lucky, because I didn't resign - my business unit was sold).

Re:Not a chance. (1)

daem0n1x (748565) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830007)

Yeah, I know what you mean. I used to work in a big multinational. Management moved people from one project to another like they were counting sheep. They didn't even bother to look at the resume. The results were disgraceful, of course but managers had great cars, annual prizes and good salaries. For doing basically nothing.

Re:Not a chance. (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830043)

We have a skill database too where I work, but it didn't prevented me to switch from writing DSP drivers for telecom equipments to maintaining unit testing infrastructure for level A avionic SW half a year ago. You know what? a bigger payraise wouldn't have given me a tenth of the morale increase that I got from starting over on a totally different job.

Re:Not a chance. (3, Interesting)

MurphyZero (717692) | more than 5 years ago | (#24831527)

I switch jobs about every two years. I too enjoy the ability to learn something new and/or get out of something boring.

Re:Not a chance. (4, Interesting)

Mark_in_Brazil (537925) | more than 5 years ago | (#24831291)

I've never worked at IBM, but I've known people who did, including my ex-wife, back when we were married.
I'm not sure about elsewhere, but here in Brazil, IBM attracts employees. One is by being multinational tech giant. People who value stability and like to say they're in a big company (there's a lot more of that than I ever would have imagined) are attracted by that image. Back in 2000, when my then-wife was at IBM, I knew one person (a woman, but not my then-wife) who got PMP certification and had done a lot of training at IBM, and was getting a lot of attention from headhunters. She was given the opportunity to interview for a job with twice (TWICE) the salary of the job she then had at IBM, but didn't even try to find out more about the company or go to the interview because, in her words, "I've already got a nice little career at IBM, so I'm going to stay." My first thought was that IBM, like most other publicly traded companies, would "downsize" by purging a four- or five-digit number of jobs, and would do it without blinking. That is, IBM would be nowhere near as loyal to this person and thousands like her as she was being to IBM. The thing is that I realized she believed her job was safe because the company is big, and if I had said what I was thinking, we would end up in an argument how well her job at IBM might weather tough times, and her image of IBM's stability was much too deeply rooted for me to change it.
The other thing about IBM that attracted people to work there is that IBM was known for giving its employees lots of training. Here in Brazil, a lot of tech people I met made frequent mentions of "Faculdades IBM" (roughly, "IBM University"). It was a place you went and earned a salary while learning new skills and new technologies free. Yes, the salary was less than you could earn at another job, but the training made it worthwhile, because after a few years at IBM, you could find a much higher-paying job with your new skills and experience. IBM was kinda screwing up by letting its employees get away, and that was largely because annual salary adjustments for loyal employees were small enough that even some of the stability-seekers were tempted to look elsewhere.
When I was back in the US for the last time before moving to Brazil, which means somewhere between April and June of 2000, I met a friend of friends who was working at IBM somewhere in California. I told him about the "IBM University" image the company had in the Brazilian high-tech market. He told me it was similar in the US. I mention that it was only one person, because this may not be generally true, but in the view of this one friend of my friends, it was. In fact, he told me he was earning a lot less than similarly-qualified friends, and some had even tried to get him to go and work with them, but he had a multi-year plan involving lots of training and experience at IBM before hitting the job market. He wanted to have a resume with training and experience that would get him the job he wanted without the job-hopping approach his friends were taking. Again, this was what one IBM employee told me in 2000, so I don't want to generalize.

All the problems mentioned in the parent post, plus some real jerks who were managers, plus some really ridiculous rules imposed on employees (gawd, the e-mails parodying those rules were hilarious, and I knew enough people at IBM Brasil to get several copies of each), contributed to IBM Brasil's less-than-ideal work environment. But IBM was able to keep recruiting even good employees because the employees, for one reason or another, believed it was worth dealing with that. The people whose thinking was stuck in Brazil's more unstable economic past valued the perceived stability of having a job at IBM and being able to proudly tell people they worked at an enormous company enough to deal with the negative aspects of working there. I'm the opposite of these "corporate size queens;" I never liked working at a company larger than a given size. Given my experience in 1998, I'd say that size is smaller than 800 employees. For others, the training and experience gained by working at IBM for a few years outweighed the negative aspects.
When I mentioned the IBM employee who wasn't even interested in finding out more about an opportunity to earn twice the salary she was then earning. Upon reading that, you may have asked "TWICE?" Yes, twice the salary. And a step up the hierarchy with room for future promotions. A good part of the salary difference was because IBM was paying a below-market salary at the time, and the rest was because the job was at the next step up the corporate ladder.

Re:Not a chance. (1)

SoopahMan (706062) | more than 5 years ago | (#24832025)

I remember a manager bragging to us about having estimated a project "literally on the back of a napkin" and that he could "turn up the faucet on development" if a deal required it. The ideal makes sense to want, but it sure didn't work.

Re:Not a chance. (3, Interesting)

Phat_Tony (661117) | more than 5 years ago | (#24834631)

Management is largely about optimizing resources, but of the tradeoffs management must consider, only some of them can be quantified numerically at all. The decisions managers have to make are often that of weighing something easily quantifiable and incredibly precise against something hopelessly vague and unquantifiable, which a computer will have no chance whatsoever of grappling with until we have strong AI. There's a pervasive trend in management to put undue weight on the quantifiable aspects of business, when it's a common fallacy to beleive something should be weighted more highly simply because it's quantifiable.

Here's just one tiny example of the kind of decision management has to weigh: setting service-level goals for a call center. Most call centers measure and target a service level, defined as answering [x]% of their incoming calls in [y] seconds or less. There's a tremendous amount of exceedingly tricky mathematical modeling that can be done to determine how to staff best to meet service level efficiently, and super-advanced computer programs could play a huge roll in improving this. And good computer modeling can create a beautiful and accurate graph of exactly how much it costs the company to run different service levels. But the key management problem here is setting the target service level, and while you can quantify, model, and analyze the costs of providing that service level intricately, and smart management can optimize that out the wazoo and bring ever lower costs to providing the same service level, it's almost impossible to gather the tiniest shred of evidence regarding the benefits of different service levels.

Sure, we all know what the benefits are- how many people get sick of waiting and call another company? How many do so subconsciously? How many only do so after years? How many of your customers tried another company once, and made the connection that that company provides poor customer service because the wait on the phone was so much longer, or switched because it was so much shorter, or the opposite- competitor's customers who did or did not switch to you because of the same? How much money did you save in returns or less complaint calls because you had built up goodwill by always answering the phone fast and not keeping your customers waiting? How about trying to quantify the mental health benefit to your own sales force from having happier, less irate customers, because they weren't kept on hold interminably before you answered? You have no hope of quantifying the benefits, but you must set some service level, based upon your intricate analysis of costs and NO IDEA what the benefits are.

And almost every aspect of business if FULL of decisions like this.

I used to manage a call center, and we answered 97% of calls in 18 seconds or less- that's three rings. There was no computer answering system, and no queue except the ringing. When we went to call-center industry conventions, people literally wouldn't believe that any major call center ran service levels that high, and if they believed it, they'd tell us we were insane, that that service level represents an unconscionable waste of resources. For comparison, many companies had targets more like 60% of calls in 10 minutes or less, with a computer holding queue. Some government departments (I'm not kidding) had goals of 50% of calls answered period- that is, answered before the caller bailed out of the holding queue by giving up, with no time factor.

We strongly disagreed that we were significantly overspending on service level, but there wasn't anything to even say to argue about it- the value of a good customer service experience is just ridiculously difficult to quantify. But even at that company, I routinely saw people making the kind of mistake we felt companies who kept their customers on hold forever were making- they tend to move in bias of the information they can quantify. Some manager goes to a meeting of higher-ups and says "I found out how we can save $6 million a year in our call centers by just cutting our service level from 80% to 70%." But they can't come up with any estimate at all of what it will cost their company in the long run to do so- and when faced with these challenges, I think people tend overwhelmingly to choose whatever they can quantify.

If we think that's a problem now, allowing computers to manage us more will only exacerbate the bias in favor of the quantifiable. This sort of system could be used to great effect to organize the schedules of the call center staff to handle a given service level the most efficiently, but god forbid someone try to use a computer to tell them what their target service level should be. Just think how much money you could save in your call center budget if you just stopped answering the phone all together.

Re:Not a chance. (0, Redundant)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#24836853)

As a non-manager, I can tell you the most important job of management is to deal with the unquantifiable: engineers need to feel unique and usefull

Then why does management so often go out of their way to indicate that they think engineers are interchangable human resources?

So scary its..... yawn. (5, Funny)

Eth1csGrad1ent (1175557) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829665)

Yawn. Take a look at my life if you want, but let me save you the calculations. I had a busy, if somewhat mundane, day at work after which I came home, ate some pizza, caught an episode of Top Gear and Boston Legal, checked in on my facebook account, and - as the missus is away - there is probably some internet porn in my near future. Tomorrow, being a Tuesday, will most likely turn out to be a carbon copy of today, with the following exceptions, Top Gear becomes Criminal Minds followed by NCIS instead of Boston Legal. THE END.

Re:So scary its..... yawn. (4, Funny)

rasputin465 (1032646) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830165)

Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door - that way Lumbergh can't see me, heh heh - and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour. I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

Re:So scary its..... yawn. (1)

kitgerrits (1034262) | more than 5 years ago | (#24834839)

I came in fifteen minutes late, too. (10.15am)
Went looking for management, ran through the e-mail, checked some reports, checked Slashdot, went looking for management again, had lunch, called management, apparently the meeting was called off, they just forgot to tell us.
Fixed a licensing issue with a (clustered) database, fixed a library-linking issue with a (production) cluster application, pre-loaded 300+ updates on a pair of (RHEL4) servers, downloaded latest VMWare for tomorrow, drove home at 20:45 (pm)
Just an average, boring day at the office

Unfortunately, tomorrow I can't be late for work (10.00), because I have a meeting on how to squeeze a 35GB backup through a 100Mbit uplink every day without interrupting 24x7 production-traffic.

Re:So scary its..... yawn. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24835859)

Uhm, just wanted to mention that our guys are testing something called Symantec Veritas NetBackup PureDisk. Don't get me wrong, I do not like Symantec and I made some serious bad experiences with their antivirus product lines and their support but the marketing stuff about it seems to sound promising. Just wanted to mention that...

Management now? (4, Funny)

houghi (78078) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829667)

automate much of what we now call management.

That means I will be managed by a mindless droid. Not much difference from now and most likely even an improvement from the humanoid random generator that takes decisions now.

Re:Management now? (2, Funny)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829721)

The good thing is that if you spend your entire day on economy and stock exchange sites, you might trick the system into promoting you to CEO position, of course, you need avoid /. and revert back to unpatched IE6 too.

an excellent way to reduce the quality of workers (4, Interesting)

thermian (1267986) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829713)

Actually, a lot of consultants are highly skilled people who do not have to work for any one person.

Automate their management, and you'll start making them feel like factory workers. Smart people are far less likely to accept inflexible working conditions. The result will be that they walk.

I know I would. My consultancy work is expensive, and I insist on doing what I want, when I want, for who I want. Ok, I'm picky, but I'm happy and I enjoy what I do, so the quality of my work remains high.

If someone started dictating things I had to do based on a mathematical model, I'd go elsewhere for a more relaxed environment.

Let me just implant your career chip... (1)

Xelios (822510) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829719)

"Turanga Leela made her first appearance in the series, in "Space Pilot 3000", as a Fate Assignment Officer; a worker who implanted career chips into cryogenically frozen individuals, notably Fry, who were newly thawed."

Give it a couple years and maybe we'll see a new headline, "IBM Seeks Fate Assignment Officers".

Re:Let me just implant your career chip... (1)

kitgerrits (1034262) | more than 5 years ago | (#24834877)

Good news, everyone! Those asinine morons who canceled us were themselves fired for incompetence.
    [the crew cheers]
And not just fired, but beaten up, too... and pretty badly.
    [the crew cheers doubtfully]
In fact, most of them died from their injuries.
    [the crew remains silent while Bender laughs evilly]
And then they were ground up into a fine pink powder.

End of nepotism, at last! (2, Insightful)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829753)

Good thing: the manager doesn't have a stupid son or nephew to promote instead of you.

Bad thing: no more open position available for promotion. (and so the death of the compagnies caused by the unability to apply Dilbert's rule).

Re:End of nepotism, at last! (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830409)

I know a lot of Black and Hispanic people who would choose the objective algorithm over the human, even if it means no management positions available. It could do things affirmative action was never able to do. But I wonder how long such an algorithm could last before people were able to game the system to get a higher rank, the way websites do in Google searches.

So you match to the Heuristics chosen (1)

tezza (539307) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829799)

BORING! They could have Neural Networks [wikipedia.org], or or some upper bounded "Advanced Beginner" [berkeley.edu] and acheive the same result ::

When you define perfection(tm), you can acheive it. Then you realise your perfection(tm) is not actual perfection, but some management person's project signoff of perfection.

Seems like the same old consultant $$$ trick [joelonsoftware.com]. The dificult portion is picking to best heuristics, and is trivial to game.

Tautology? (1)

netpixie (155816) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829845)

I'm always a bit uneasy when I see people writing about "modelling with maths". It strikes me that that is like discussing "talking with words".

If you're not "modelling with maths" then you're modelling with something else (astrology? guesswork? religon?) and what you're going to end up with is mmmmemmemmmememmmememem

(that's meant to be a text representation of someone trying to talk without words)

Re:Tautology? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24830003)

yet they're talking about me and meme

Re:Tautology? (1)

wild_berry (448019) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830081)

As a mathematical modeller and pedant, may I point out: you could be modelling with beautiful people.

Re:Tautology? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#24832799)

As a mathematical modeller and pedant, may I point out: you could be modelling with beautiful people.

Not here on Slashdot, you couldn't.

Re:Tautology? (2, Funny)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830175)

If you're not "modelling with maths" then you're modelling with something else (astrology? guesswork? religon?)


Similar concept has been tried before (4, Informative)

francium de neobie (590783) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829849)

By Frederick Winslow Taylor, who pioneered the concept of scientific management [wikipedia.org].

While scientific management has its uses (e.g. optimizing an industrial process), it is definitely not everything about management. Scientific management has received plenty of criticisms in the past when it's overused, especially when the manager pushed it to the extreme and overspecialized the roles of employees - it devastates morale and harms everyone in the long term.

So while I respect the work these guys are doing, the "to automate much of what we call management" bit sounds like an exaggeration to me. After all, a lot of management is about people and communication, and even our best AIs don't have much idea about the latter today.

Re:Similar concept has been tried before (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829983)

If you set parameters on what people do or know and reward them according to them, then they will meet or exceed those criteria (if set fairly) but not actually do any more work (and may actually do less)

All you will have is people chasing targets rather than doing work ...

Re:Similar concept has been tried before (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24831019)

If you set parameters on what people do or know and reward them according to them, then they will meet or exceed those criteria (if set fairly) but not actually do any more work

And if you take the hurdles away, they will fly through the air and leap to ever greater heights?

Sounds remarkably like the same kind of logic used against government regulation of hazards, environmental damage, etc. It's just "social promotion" wrapped up in a Republican-friendly guise: If they (can't meet goals|not poison the public with benzene|pass 6th grade math) it must be the "parameter"'s fault, not (my employee|the company I own|my darling, angelic child)'s fault. Therefore we must abolish (goals|environmental regulations|final exams) so as to not mete out unfair punishment.

Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (4, Insightful)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829923)

You need to be careful about applying mathematics. Typically a mathematical model will have assumptions from which predictions can be made. The trouble is the instant you make your assumptions, the predictions become locked in. They are predetermined, even though you may not have discovered them yet. And of course if your assumptions are wrong, or inaccurate, your predictions are not going to match the real world very well. You can't massage the data or your results to get around this. Once your assumptions are made, mathematics leave no room for debate. Ever.

What this means of course is that it is often complete folly to apply mathematics to complex human interactions. Any assumptions you make will be totally inadequate to fully encompass any large organization and its members, and as a result, your predictions will probably be erroneous. Proceeding to apply your derived results to people will lead to unsatisfactory results and unexpected effects.

The Adam Curtis documentary The Trap [wikipedia.org], discusses the problems in reducing industries, outputs and people to numbers. Basically the numbers, which are more or less wrong, force people to conform to them, and you end up breaking existing systems completely or else converting them into an inefficient version of themselves, all the while thinking (and being told by the numbers) that your systems are improving.

The power of a mathematical model and its caveats, are in fact best described by Douglas Adams' fictional supercomputer Deep Thought [wikipedia.org]. Deep Thought could indeed provide the answer to Life the Universe and Everything(42), and it was perfectly correct. But it wasn't any good because no one knew the correct Question to ask in the first place.

Mathematics will give you answers, and they will be right. But you had better be sure that you asked the right questions before you act on them.

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (2, Insightful)

plopez (54068) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830293)

What about stochastic methods?

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (1)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 5 years ago | (#24835071)

Same with stochastic models. They way they are generally used is to compute some kind of expected value which tends to be one number. There are assumptions put into the model: the distribution etc...

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24830505)

"Mathematics will give you answers, and they will be right." Not necessarily! The problem could be ill-conditioned. What you meant to say is that your solution is only optimal with respect to the evaluation function you used in your model.

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (1)

dogeatery (1305399) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830745)

Humans = sqrt(-1)

Good luck working out that equation!

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 5 years ago | (#24839989)

Humans = sqrt(-1)

Humans are imaginary? If we're not all cartesian about it, I'd say humans definitely exist. But in the spirit of your post, I'd say some are sqrt(2), while some are sqrt(1). Maybe that's too black-and-white, so perhaps we're an affine linear combination of all three?

(Does anyone else think about the episode where the bear kidnaps all the sqrts?)

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (1)

dogeatery (1305399) | more than 5 years ago | (#24844061)

I wish I could make the little square root symbol!

I was referencing the book "We" by Evgeny Zamyatin, in which sqrt(-1) is the unsolvable, irrational number that haunts the protagonist (he's a mathematician trying to quantify his society) and represents human nature.

(It's a REALLY good, quick read, highly recommended)

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (1)

rogerbo (74443) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830883)

thank you for mentioning 'the trap'. The horrifying thing is that this idea completely takes away the concept of human compassion from management in the pursuit of "efficiency'.

so sure lets deploy someone to a project in india whose wife has just had a child. His skills can best be used there. complain? too bad , you're not a team player, sorry no room for you when contracts are renewed....

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (1)

phillous (1160303) | more than 5 years ago | (#24831345)

The power of a mathematical model and its caveats, are in fact best described by Douglas Adams' fictional supercomputer Deep Thought [wikipedia.org]. Deep Thought could indeed provide the answer to Life the Universe and Everything(42), and it was perfectly correct. But it wasn't any good because no one knew the correct Question to ask in the first place.

(Emphasis mine)
You're right and wrong. The question they asked was "what is the answer to the ultimate question of life the universe and everything".
Of course they meant the meaning of life, but Deep Thought understood ultimate as last, which is quite right, to be fair. And the last question to be asked by anyone at the end of time was 6x7.

See? I'm amazed how many people don't understand that, and still find "42" to be funny as a response to meaning of life questions... bah.

Re:Mathematics Is A Harsh Mistress (1)

Sectrish (949413) | more than 5 years ago | (#24834823)

I wish I had mod points right now, because I sure as hell was too stupid to realise that (although maybe I can feel less inferior by ascertaining myself that English is not my mother tongue).

I do feel the need to checkup on "6x7" being the last question though

OMG - Protect your job ASAP! (3, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 5 years ago | (#24829935)

Quick, start doing something random, but work-related, regularly, at random intervals.

Model that you bastards.

Re:OMG - Protect your job ASAP! (3, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830225)

Forgot to add: This reminds me of a cartoon I saw perhaps 10-15 years ago; a potential employee is being shown around by a Manager. The caption read something like:

"Of course, we like to treat everyone here as individuals - for example, this is individual #64881"

Re:OMG - Protect your job ASAP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24834921)

Hey, how do you know my employee number?!

Re:OMG - Protect your job ASAP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24830469)

People suck at randomness. Prepare to be predicted.

Re:OMG - Protect your job ASAP! (1)

Mark_in_Brazil (537925) | more than 5 years ago | (#24831355)

When retailers started applying mathematical models to store layout and pricing, based on consumer behavior ("beer and diapers" turned out to be a myth, but it's a good search string if you want to read up on the early work that led to today's automation of more aspects than you might imagine of retail business), some friends and I had a similar reaction. We wanted to coordinate and do things like buy socks and a specific flavor of gum together, so the correlations would show up in the retailers' analysis of their sales databases.

Re:OMG - Protect your job ASAP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24832159)

There are such things as probabilistic models.

Qualitative vs Quantitative (4, Insightful)

gusmao (712388) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830041)

According to the article, they don't have access to evaluation performance reports, so they are using basically hard data (as salary, programming languages used, experience in particular projects, etc) to model the very broad concept of "skill".

The problem is that the evaluation reports are precisely the most likely source to tell a good programmer from a just regular one, which is exactly what they don't take into account. A junior programmer may be excepional, but he will have less experience and a much lower salary than a "senior" programmer that could just market itself very well, and therefore be marked as a commodity

Categorizing programmers and treating them like commodities could be very dangerous if your model is flawed or considers the wrong parameters, especially if it provides a excuse for bad managers not to think or evaluate their employees individually (hey, if the model says it can't be wrong, right?)

By coincidence... (2, Insightful)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830191)

Did you notice that the /. fortune at the moment is

If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts. -- Albert Einstein


Re:Qualitative vs Quantitative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24837813)

Performance reports are completely bogus anyway - the only performance report that matters is did your client extend your contract - the article does say tech consultants. No one extends complete failures. Once knew of a guy who was uninvited to a contract because he, among other things, had done the roller blade bit in the parking lot at lunch during some previous engagement. Thats the type of stuff that gets on technical consultants performance reports.

plus 3, Troll) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24830359)

from one folder on lead to 'clean5er the public eye: *BSD but FreeBSD

IBM (IBM) (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830377)

I've always wondered what the letters in IBM stood for. Now I know that they stand for "IBM". Thanks Businessweek!

Not wrong in all situations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24830499)

McDonald's used to be, well, McDonald's. A warming bin full (or empty) of previously delicious, now overwarmed and stale sandwiches. It relied on managers to predict customer traffic and product mix via intuition, experience and, occasionally, paper and pencil. But the paper and pencil method was inaccurate at best, as managers only had access to hourly data. It worked OK, but as anyone who went to a McDonald's, well, ever, knew that it was not perfect. And Bob help you if you ordered a special order.

Add into that employee cross training and skills knowledge. A good manager knew their people and their skills, but had to rely on experience to know whether Suzie the shake girl also knew how to make fries. New managers, less good managers and up to the minute training that was done = fail.

Enter the In Store Processor. It tracks skill levels of employees, minute by minute historical trends, etc. It also computer-magically "listened" to all orders being taken versus what had already been produced to order more products to be made. It used that info to schedule people and production. And it was far better than any person could be. It also freed up management to actually manage the restaurant, rather than be stuck fighting production fires.

(They've since upgraded to a just-in-time system whereby all sandwiches are made to order- they realized that taking out the buffer didn't hinder throughput nearly as badly as common sense would predict, and increased quality and customer satisfaction. It did require more people, but they were able to be more efficient overall because you didn't have to rely on a well-paid rockstar to keep production going.)

McDonald's benefitted from the type of system being discussed here.

Will IBM? I would posit that they will, and that as people become less stuck on "MY PROJECT" and think a little more globally ("MY TEAM'S PROJECTS"), people will become more efficient and thus more happy. For every person who is "torn away" from their project, there will be others who aren't stuck working 80 hour weeks because some awful manager didn't predict the work load accurately.

And what about the very common issue of "OMG, project starts tomorrow and nobody knows Web 4.8 Java on Rollerskates v.93!!" A system like this allows sales to input the job and for the system to parse the skills pool and find out whether the required skills are available. And managers can get people trained or hired to meet requirements.

Systems like this free up people to do more work with less overhead.

Re:Not wrong in all situations (1)

slim (1652) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830993)

Will IBM? I would posit that they will, and that as people become less stuck on "MY PROJECT" and think a little more globally ("MY TEAM'S PROJECTS"), people will become more efficient and thus more happy. For every person who is "torn away" from their project, there will be others who aren't stuck working 80 hour weeks because some awful manager didn't predict the work load accurately.

I'd be more concerned about being "torn away" from a team, than from a project. Of course, the models *could* factor in the fact that it takes time to build a working relationship, and build that cost into its heuristics.

Iron Maiden (1)

peektwice (726616) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830563)

In the words of Iron Maiden... "I'm not a number, I'm a free man!". Although I'm sure someone else said it first.

Re:Iron Maiden (1)

MetalPhalanx (1044938) | more than 5 years ago | (#24830839)

That was a sample from I believe a TV show, no one in Iron Maiden actually said that!

Up the Irons!

Re:Iron Maiden (1)

drjzzz (150299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24833213)

Maybe read, or even just scan the earlier comments... I quoted "The Prisoner" (TV, circa '68) about an hour before the parent posted. A knowledgeable AC provided the full quote, below. Iron Maiden. Sheesh.

I am not a number. I am a free man. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24831283)

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.

It's The Data, Stupid! (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#24831295)

One of the most promising laboratories for the Numerati is the workplace, where every keystroke, click, and e-mail can be studied.

And that's the problem. Do do this analysis you need a lot of complete datasets. While you can pull that off with what a person does at work, we have this little privacy problem elsewhere. Although you can make the case that a person doesn't have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces, start using that against people and that idea could change real quickly. And in your own home, car, or other space you have a complete expectation of privacy meaning that much data is going to be either very incomplete, or missing entirely. So you may end up with a great system that can produce marvelous results, and no proper data to feed it.

And best of all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24831327)

This software runs on Linux!

Manager w/ paper vs manager w/ program (1)

clockwork_cyborg (1295108) | more than 5 years ago | (#24831649)

A lot of people are jumping really quickly against this because "I don't want to be just a number, I'm a person and you have to account for my feelings". The problem is there's more factors than just how an employee will feel when moving then to another project, and it's difficult to go through hundreds of potential teams and combinations manually while taking into considering how these teams will interact and how suited people are to the job at hand. By getting a program to spit out possibly combinations, it takes out a lot of the gruntwork, letting more probable combinations been generated and evaluated by whoever's working on the new team. If anything, I'd say people's feelings might be accounted for better than less. There will be visible alternatives to any undesirable combinations, and honestly, do you think that a manager shuffling paper is likely to come up with better teams on average than a manager with a program which spits out combinations of people with the right range of knowledge and experience? It's just a tool after all, like performance reviews and resumes. You might as well say you refuse to use those because they aren't accurate reflections of who you are. (That may be true, but consider the alternatives.)

If being a number in some program means the real me will be happier and get opportunities I'm suited for, then I'd say sure, why not?

And if this whole thing doesn't actually work... Well that's why they're doing this and seeing if it does. No point in shooting it down when it's still very much research.

Automate the managers away! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24832561)

Cybercommunism? I'm all for it. Of course that would obsolete IBM.

Seriously, if these mathematical tools are any good, people should use them to coordinate among themselves and get rid of the hierarchies. I wouldn't mind being managed by a robot if I get to (co-)program it.

Comparison with Super-Crunchers? (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 5 years ago | (#24833011)

Anyone compared "The Numerati" with "Super-Crunchers" by Ian Ayers?

Re:Comparison with Super-Crunchers? (1)

Randym (25779) | more than 5 years ago | (#24907875)

No, no --- not the one. Super-Crunchers simply postulates that, by extracting patterns from peta-scale data, new insights can be gained. Ayers' idea is simply that quantity *will lead to* quality. That's not the thesis of The Numerati *at all*.

Math Model Replaces Management (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24837653)

Sounds good. The share holders can cut costs by out-sourcing management. They can cut costs further by replacing the sales guys with H1-B guys, - who can move big blue to Bangalore, replace the share holders, and stop polluting Poughkeepsie!

never sends computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24837861)

to do humans' job
vice versa
but anyway
only talents live
and talents live themselves.....
management?.....talents manage themselves....
non-talents never understand....

Operations Research (for the Layman) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24849433)

that's what this book is. Not a new field, not a new topic, but undoubtedly something that will get people's surprise and concern if they've never encountered it before.


Geminii (954348) | more than 5 years ago | (#24888537)


(antifilter antifilter antifilter antifilter antifilter antifilter antifilter antifilter)

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