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The Gradual Public Awareness of the Might of Algorithms

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the interlocking-gears dept.

Software 169

Soylent Mauve writes "The trend toward data- and algorithm-driven tuning of business operations has gotten a lot of attention recently — check out the recent articles in the New York Times and the Economist. It looks like computer scientists, especially those with machine learning training, are getting their day in the sun. From the NYT piece: 'It was the Internet that stripped the word of its innocence. Algorithms, as closely guarded as state secrets, buy and sell stocks and mortgage-backed securities, sometimes with a dispassionate zeal that crashes markets. Algorithms promise to find the news that fits you, and even your perfect mate. You can't visit Amazon without being confronted with a list of books and other products that the Great Algoritmi recommends. Its intuitions, of course, are just calculations -- given enough time they could be carried out with stones. But when so much data is processed so rapidly, the effect is oracular and almost opaque.'"

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169 comments

Oracular, opaque... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720349)

and often hilarious or silly. People already trust computers too much.

Re:Oracular, opaque... (2, Funny)

Paradigm_Complex (968558) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720361)

I checked sources online, you're wrong according too... wait, crap.

Re:Oracular, opaque... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720567)

I checked sources online, you're wrong according too...
Knuth?

Re:Oracular, opaque... (4, Funny)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720857)

I checked sources online, you're wrong according too...
Knuth?
Please note, the parent post may contain errors. I have only proved it correct, not actually read it.

Re:Oracular, opaque... (1)

husker_man (473297) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721053)

If there is an actual error and you tell me, I'll write you a check for one hexadecimal dollar.

Re:Oracular, opaque... (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721119)

you would have/should have been modded funny, but I'm afraid not that many people have actually read knuth to know what you mean.

Hell, I've got every volume, I've been referring to them for years, and I still haven't read much. All I know is that without his books I'd have been stuffed on a number of occasions

Re:Oracular, opaque... (3, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720505)

Absolutely. I belong to several Yahoo and Google Groups geared at the neopagan crowd, and because the groups are categorized as 'religious' groups, the advertising always contains advertisements for 'End Times' books and appeals to join the United Methodist Church, etc. Then again, maybe this the algorithms are doing just what they're supposed to do ... :)

No, I think you were right the first time. (2, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720951)

But when so much data is processed so rapidly, the effect is oracular and almost opaque.

As you've demonstrated, the "oracular" part is badly mistaken.

Amazon almost NEVER guesses something I'd buy.

If I buy a new DVD, I am instantly bombarded with ads for EVERY new DVD. I buy the new Terry Pratchett book and I'm bombarded with EVERY book by him or co-authored by him or licensed by him or whatever. I don't want derivatives.

I picked up the "V" comic book (graphic novel) and now I'm bombarded with every comic book they have.

As relates to your post, you can't be the only techo neo-pagan out there. But they just cannot fit you to that group, can they? Although it should be very, very easy to do so.

Re:No, I think you were right the first time. (1)

notrandom (993713) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721123)

I think pure statistics tell them they should not care about you as a human being capable of being irritated
Also that in the long run the mindless consumer drones will buy anything as long as you offer it to them.
Consider yourself collateral damage ... bleah

Re:No, I think you were right the first time. (4, Informative)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721261)

I buy the new Terry Pratchett book and I'm bombarded with EVERY book by him or co-authored by him or licensed by him or whatever. I don't want derivatives.

My favorite is getting Amazon recommendations for books I've already bought... through Amazon.

I often find myself saying "Ah, yes, I just bought the hardcover version of that book last year, now I should go out and get the paperback, the second edition with a few minor spelling corrections, etc, etc."

Or something.

My favorite recommendations (1)

ickeicke (927264) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722521)

My favorite recommendations are when I am comparing different versions of the same cd for example. I sometimes see that "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" the same item, but the the hard back version, deluxe edition, etc. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that such differen editions appear later and that some people buy both versions, but it's still dubious.

Or when looking at this [amazon.com] cd by a band called Goose, Amazon says that "Other customers suggested these items:", followed by items such as "Favourite Christmas Recipes (Favourite Recipes)"...

Re:Oracular, opaque... (1)

Sczi (1030288) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721291)

People already trust computers too much.

I just posted this elsewhere, but it fits here too. (I couldn't agree more, btw)

The day the computers can read what we're looking at and know us well enough to offer an even remotely successful guess at what comes next will be the day the computer decides it doesn't need us anymore. And I think we all know what happens when the computers decide they don't need us anymore.

On the topic of shopping algorithms, I love it when I look at a book, and it says people who bought this book also bought these other 3 books, plus this waffle iron. (ok, one site in particular)

Re:Oracular, opaque... (4, Insightful)

mahmud (254877) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721851)

The day the computers can read what we're looking at and know us well enough to offer an even remotely successful guess at what comes next will be the day the computer decides it doesn't need us anymore. And I think we all know what happens when the computers decide they don't need us anymore.
No.

Don't apply your intuition concerning human beings to other intelligent systems. A true AI may or may not decide it doesn't need us, depending on how it's programmed.

You ignore the fact that stand-alone sentience has little to do with our evolution-dictated habits (e.g. getting rid of competing group/species/whatever). You assume that all the evolution-dictated behaviour and thinking patterns embedded in human brain will somehow automagically manifest themselves in a true strong-AI machine, a view with which I disagree.

Re:Oracular, opaque... (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721489)

People already trust computers too much.

No. You can always trust the answer a computer gives you to be correct.

Its the input data [wikipedia.org] that I'm worried about.

Re:Oracular, opaque... (1)

geekboy642 (799087) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722387)

Alas, not completely true.
The algorithm has to be correct for the GIGO rule to apply. For instance, as a mental exercise this morning, I wrote a program to solve Sudoku puzzles. Having mis-typed the starting allocated numbers for one of the advanced puzzles, I was confused when the program kept failing. After fixing the puzzle data, it still failed. Then I discovered my solving algorithm was also incorrect.

I had GIGO, followed by TIGO (truth in, garbage out).

first (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720351)

first

Slightly O.T. (4, Informative)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720389)

I just (a few minutes ago) found this free PDF book about algorithms (written for the undergrad-level student). It's pretty good: http://beust.com/algorithms.pdf [beust.com]

Re:Slightly O.T. (3, Funny)

mcpkaaos (449561) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720493)

When I opened that PDF, my Windows calculator automatically launched, performed all of the calculations, and logged the results to notepad. Amazing!

Re:Slightly O.T. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721473)

You little nigger, this is great, thanks!
--
An undergrad-level student just starting to get interested in algorithms

Re:Slightly O.T. (1)

rm999 (775449) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721723)

I highly recommend this book - it's really well written. It was actually written by an excellent machine learning professor too (Dasgupta), so it's sort of on topic :)

This Just In (4, Funny)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720423)

Math is a really really powerful tool.

Re:This Just In (1, Troll)

nih (411096) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720535)

Maths is a really really powerful tool.

there American, fixed it for you.

Re:This Just In (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720583)

Physician, heal thyself.

Re:This Just In (1)

Enonu (129798) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720727)

If you identify one "Math" for me, then I'll identify one snow for you.

Re:This Just In (1)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721117)

If you identify one "Math" for me, then I'll identify one snow for you.

I'll give you two: algebra and calculus.

And that would be one snowflake or one snowfall.

Re:This Just In (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721645)

If you identify one "Math" for me, then I'll identify one snow for you.
When you identify one single "Mathematic" for me.

Re:This Just In (1)

Your Pal Dave (33229) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721305)

Well, finish the job:

Maths are a really really powerful tool.

Re:This Just In (1)

mattjb0010 (724744) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722493)

Maths are a really really powerful tool. Maths is not a plural of math, it's a different contraction of mathematics, which is a singular noun, so "is" is correct.

Re:This Just In (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721541)

Maths are a really really powerful tool.
Sheesh. When being a pretentious smartass, take care to keep your own grammar correct.

Oh, and this is an American site. You're wrong in the first place.

Re:This Just In (4, Insightful)

GuyMannDude (574364) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721085)

Math is a really really powerful tool.

While that may be obvious for slashdot readers, it's news to the general public. I remember an endless number of conversations, even as recent as a few years ago, in which people would ask "Can you do anything with that degree other than teach?" upon learning that I was a mathematician. I think it's great that the public is starting to realize that math makes the world go around. God forbid, the gradual public awareness of the power of math might even lead to kids wanting to pay attention in class. While there are drawbacks to this (e.g., the deluge of college kids taking business-oriented mathematics programs with the expectation of a six-figure salary once they graduate), I'm generally happy to see math and computer science get their days in the sun.

GMD

Re:This Just In (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721575)

Actually, farming makes the world go round. Starving people have a tendency to die and not be able to think.

Re:This Just In (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20722461)

The article is about Algorithms, not math. "Algorith" is a word. It represents a process or procedure for reaching a goal, not math. Sure, Math could be used to express aspects of the algorithm. Math can be used to express many things. Some people would say that math could be used to describe "anything". Some religious types might dispute that. Some might describe religion as "n/0". At any rate, just because a process or procedure, in a form that can be used on a computer is called an "algorithm", doesn't mean that it is "math" any more than suggesting that the operation of the process or procedure to reach the goal is "physics", or the reason someone is executing an algorith is "Philosophy". Physics is a really really powerful tool! Philosophy is a really really powerful tool! People who understand that following a process or procedure to reach their goal is a powerful concept too. 3 Billion people can follow such processes and procedures, and not use or understand a single mathematical equation. More importantly, do we really care if the general public is starting top realise the "power of algoithms"?

Boy They're Slow (3, Insightful)

PingPongBoy (303994) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720455)

Whereas algorithms are instantly aware of their own prowess.

Is management starting to wonder (again) whether a computer can really do a better job making the important decisions? But can it yet? There is so much data that needs to be acquired in order to return a meaningful answer.

Some of the most powerful organizations are probably making deals to combine as many databases as possible. Interesting to see (if they would let us see) if that will give them the answers they're looking for. As data acquisition becomes more accurate and less expensive, there will be less privacy but more creative computer output, a trade-off in the value of personal information leading to the possible marginalization of humanity.

Re:Boy They're Slow (1)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720521)

Humanity won't be marginalized. Who will be marginalized are the people with no power, money, or votes. The power of the elite will be enhanced by this. Now I don't need to employ stasi to watch everyone all the time, I can use a computer that doesn't have the brains to be anything but a loyal servant. I don't need to risk soldiers turning their guns on me when sent to quell a protest if my loyal robot drones will efficiently and painfully kill everyone there. The history of technology and warfare is pretty uniformly negative on this point.

Re:Boy They're Slow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720957)

Is management starting to wonder (again) whether a computer can really do a better job making the important decisions?

For most managers, that would be a "yes."

Re:Boy They're Slow (1)

bob.appleyard (1030756) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721071)

I saw a programme about this earlier this year. I was a little bit drunk when I saw it, so the details are fuzzy, but it described a firm like McLaren using software to help make management decisions. The aim of the providers was to essentially replace executives and the like. I was dubious when I saw it, but who knows down the line.

Re:Boy They're Slow (2, Interesting)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721189)

Is management starting to wonder (again) whether a computer can really do a better job making the important decisions? But can it yet? There is so much data that needs to be acquired in order to return a meaningful answer.

If they're foolish, sure they hope computers can make better decisions. If they aren't complete fools they realize that computers can provide analytical support for decisions. For example, algorithms can evaluate more potential alternatives, generate potentially good alternatives that they haven't thought of, or make predictions. In most cases, algorithms are just formalizing analysis processes. The supposition is that being able to consider more data leads to better decisions. There are cases where it works really well already, e.g., managing lines at theme parks, basic scheduling, etc (see http://www.scienceofbetter.org/ [scienceofbetter.org]). Algorithms are used extensively in portfolio selection.

Data acquisition isn't a bit deal but getting the data into the right format for the algorithm still is though there's progress being made there. The really hard parts are understanding the problem enough to formalize the process and being able to properly interpret the results. Some problems are much easier to formalize than others (portfolio expected value and risk, production rates and material requirements), some can only be done with surrogate measures at this point (water scarcity, consensus and voting, anything with 'value'), and some we may never be able to fully formalize in an acceptable way (human behaviour). Letting the algorithms take care of the easy stuff is often efficient and work is being done to increase the set of 'easy stuff'.

Boy They're questioning. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721885)

"There is so much data that needs to be acquired in order to return a meaningful answer."

The key to a good answer is a great question.

The joy of algorithms (4, Interesting)

drgonzo59 (747139) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720465)

Yes, finally, the algorithms are making a comeback. Up until now we just randomly banged on our keyboards until something came out. Now we have algorithms -- a plan that we follow step by step. Wow.


But seriously, a food recipe is an algorithm for all general purposes. All these people are saying is that the machine learning algorithms and match peoples' personalities and buy stock are too complicated for the average Joe Programmer Wannabe and look more or less like a black box. (which if they employ neural networks, instead of say SVN, they are actually black boxes even for the author who wrote it...).

Re:The joy of algorithms (3, Informative)

Stochastism (1040102) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720969)

Did you mean SVM? I think the quadratic programming optimizer used for SVM training would count as a black-box, even to most of the SVM crowd ;) And don't get me started on Gaussian Processes.

Machine learning is supposed to *look* like magic. It's supposed to behave like a black box with just one or two knobs on it. When -- and this is unfortunatley almost always -- it doesn't, then it's not the machine learing doing the work, it's the programmer. In this case I can forgive Joe Wannabe for tearing his hair out over the complexity. The problem with machine learning is that the "no free lunch" theorem says that there is essentially no one-size-fits all black box. The programmer must have some understanding of why they are using that particular black box.

Re:The joy of algorithms (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721055)

Amen! Used to, if I wanted something from the store, I'd randomly do things and at some point I ended up at the store and had my item (good luck getting back home though). Now that I've learned about algorithms, I can walk there, get the item, then walk home, all in less than an hour. Algorithms have saved me so much time! What has the world done without algorithms all this time?

Re:The joy of algorithms (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722507)

But seriously, a food recipe is an algorithm for all general purposes.

Everything is an algorithm. That's kind of the point.

State Secrets? (0, Troll)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720477)

Algorithms, as closely guarded as state secrets

Under the Bush administration they are state secrets. Anyone who doesn't think their online activities pass through some great filter looking for whatever threat du jour that George's paranoia deems a menace need to think twice.

Right to privacy is only a memory. A memory getting more and more faint every day.

Re:State Secrets? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720577)

Don't worry, Bush will be gone soon, and then everything will be fine.

Re:State Secrets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720621)

Why do some people insist on bringing politics into everything? It was just an analogy, not a reference to anything political whatsoever. Get over yourself and quit your bitching.

Re:State Secrets? (1)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721003)

Get educated and start bitching. Where do you think the largest computers and data storage is located? And what do you think happens to all that data? Who you call and when. What you spend you money on and when. Your bank account. Any registrations or organizations you might belong to. There are algorithms at work that are profiling a lot more than you buying habits at Amazon. Like I said, privacy is pretty much dead. And a whole lot of your right to it has been taken under the guise of "fightin' terra".

Re:State Secrets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720717)


Hello, I am a random person having strongly controversial views about groups of people. I would like to make these available in a location where they can 1. be easily found by someone looking for them, and 2. be guaranteed not be removed (if required I would be willing to pay for this guarantee), and at the same time I would like to not suffer strongly negative personal experiences such as e.g. being pushed on the street, having my employer receive threatening letters or having protesters gather outside my house and break the windows.

Could you tell me of the method and the country in which I would be able to do this?

Naturally you would not say the US - perchance you would mention one of the bastions of freedom, such as a European country? Maybe a firm based in an African country - or maybe a Middle Eastern, perhaps an Asian country? Latin America maybe? As the great proponent and oracle of privacy and freedom and valiant battler of everything nonfree and nonprivate, I await your list with trepidation.

Re:State Secrets? (1)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720971)

I too would like to see such a list. Unfortunately, I would guess it is quite short. I really wish my own country was on it, but I am afraid that while it used to be, it sure isn't now.

Re:State Secrets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721289)

Isn't the implication then that potentially up to large minorities of people in pretty much every country in the world are completely unable to state their view publicly without it either being removed or themselves being subject to pain and/or physical harassment?

What does that say about how governments and democracies truly are run?

Software Patent Propaganda. (4, Interesting)

Erris (531066) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721005)

Don't get caught up in the hype here. Algorithms are nothing special on their own. These articles are trying to make them look important, like inventions or physical objects, to further pump up the notion of software patents. It's not algorithms that are evil in GWB's great internet filters, it's the machinery that's been built on top of an otherwise dumb network and free internet that's evil.

Without algorithms, there can be no computing but there's nothing really special about any one in particular. Algorithms are just instructions, and there are many ways of achieving the same result. Algorithms can stand alone or be combined into programs that do things users want. The net result is just another set of instructions that can be considered a larger algorithm. Without modern computing equipment, most of these instructions are useless. Like the article say, "try doing this at home." No problem, if you have a computer but a real pain if you only have pen and paper. Medical imaging devices take advantage of mathematics that was little more than a curiosity when it was first published in 1917. The inventors of the device reinvented the math without knowing it some forty years later but it was not until the 1980s that the devices became practical due to the lower cost of computing.

This article is pumping up the value and utility of business methods. Common sense is a valuable thing, but it's not always an invention and business methods never are.

Re:State Secrets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721415)

And, technically speaking, that memory is copyrighted, if you haven't paid for it I'm afraid you're going to have to forget it...

Sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720527)

Sounds like the title of a song by Jean-Luc Ponty or Tangerine Dream.

Heuristics are not the same as algorithms (2, Insightful)

pedantic bore (740196) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720545)

Sheesh! Someone needs to spend some time with a dictionary.

If only we could have a gradual (or sudden) awareness of the power of heuristics and modeling ...

Heuristics ARE algorithms (2, Informative)

12357bd (686909) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720787)

maybe not as beautiful as 'clasic' ones, but algorithms indeed. Something like shapes, you know, 'clasic' algorithms (ie: sort) are somewhat like circles (simple formulaes) but real objects (ie: leafs) are extremely complex formulaes only approximated by fractals and with a lot of 'heuristics' in it.

Re:Heuristics ARE algorithms (3, Insightful)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720933)

GP: "Heuristics are not the same as algorithms"

P: "Heuristics ARE algorithms"

Both of these statements can be true. (Depending on the exact meaning of the GP.) For instance:

Humans are not the same as animals.

Humans are animals.

A more exact statement than either is that heuristics are a subset of algorithms, as humans are a subset of animals.

Re:Heuristics ARE algorithms (5, Interesting)

pedantic bore (740196) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721045)

That's an elegant metaphor, but someone has misled you.

An algorithm is a precise specification of a process whose outcome is defined by the initial conditions. To cite your example, quicksort is an algorithm -- the outcome of the sorting process is well defined, given the inputs.

But typical implementations of quicksort use a heuristic to choose the pivot element -- median of three, media of five, middle element, etc. These are heuristics because their goal is to choose the median value, but they can't make any guarantee that it will find the median. They can't even guarantee that they will find a good value. In fact, they generally don't even consider all of their inputs! They could choose bad values every time... but on average they don't, and quicksort is fast.

Another way of looking at it is that if an algorithm is correct, it will produce a correct answer for all valid inputs. A heuristic might produce incorrect answers for valid inputs, but it's correct often enough so that it might still be worth using -- especially if a correct algorithm is not known.

You may point out that randomized algorithms have a similar property -- but the difference is that with randomized algorithms the probability of error can be made arbitrarily small. With heuristics, there's no telling.

Re:Heuristics ARE algorithms (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721397)

That is not entirely wrong but you seem to miss something.

A heuristic always produces correct answers. The problem is it might not be the answer you actual wanted to hear.

To give a very short example:
Kruskals Algorithm gives the Minmal Spanning Tree of a graph.
The MST is a heuristic for the Traveling Salesman Problem.
So while Kruskals Algorithm gives the correct result in the domain of MST, it is just a heuristic in the domain of TSP.

This means if you get a piece of code you can't tell "oh look, thats a heuristic". Heuristics are algorithms. They turn into heuristics if you place them into a special problem domain.

Mod parent up (1)

pablodiazgutierrez (756813) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722169)

I was going to reply to the GP with the same idea, but your explanation is so much better. Essentially, heuristics just answer a (hopefully) similar problem, not the one at hand.

Re:Heuristics ARE algorithms (1)

Carewolf (581105) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721747)

Heuristics are always algorithms and they always produce accurate results that depend on their input.

Heuristics are only vague in the sense, that they don't ask the full question, their result is correct answer for algorithm, but not necessarily the answer for the full un-asked question.

So heuristics are inaccurate question, NOT inaccurate results.

Yes, they are. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722447)

A heuristic is still a type of algorithm, which is simply a recipe for achieving a result. You seem to be stating that that an algorithm can only be a particular KIND of recipe, which is simply incorrect. The definition of "heuristics" is limited to particular types of procedures, but the definition of "algorithm" is not.

Further, several posters here are simply incorrect about something else. Contrary to what has been stated several times, neither algorithms or heuristics are "guaranteed" to produce correct results. Only correctly-designed algorithms and heuristics produce correct results. There are many examples of bad algorithms and heuristics that have been used in the past (and no doubt there are some in use now), but that does not make them any less "algorithms" or "heuristics". It simply makes them examples of poorly-designed algorithms and heuristics.

Re:Heuristics are not the same as algorithms (1)

sholden (12227) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720871)

All heuristics are algorithm (assuming the computer science definition of heuristic). Not all algorithms are heuristics though (sometimes we get to have our cake and eat it too).

Re:Heuristics are not the same as algorithms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721143)

I've always thought of a heuristic as an algorithm with its hair down. An algorithm is a fully explicit series of steps on data in a specific form. A heuristic is more general than that, it's a recipe in the cooking sense - it doesn't really matter if you use a measure like a "smidge" a "shake" a "pinch" or if you substitute non-wheat flour or soy milk or increase pre-heating time because of altitude - you're still making a struddle or casserole or whatever.

The only time it matters is for designers (real designers, not handwavers or "architects") and implementors - for everyone else they can be the same thing and it doesn't make a difference.

PLAIN SILLINESS (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720719)

You might as well argue about public awareness of the power of "recipes" or "formulas", because that is all algorithms are. Businesses were run by algorithm long before the advent of the computer.

This is just silly. Someone is not comparing apples to oranges, but calling apples oranges. That does not make them so.

People have always known of their might (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20720737)

Ever heard of "long division"? Fuck you, Zonk

The Importance of a CS Degree (4, Insightful)

Enonu (129798) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720875)

This is one of the reason why getting a CS degree is important, despite what the ignorant masses say in the IT industry. Sure writing lame CRUD applications will satisfy your average customer's needs, but sophisticated algorithms are what provide value beyond a simple shopping cart.

If you're still entrenched in the thought that a CS degree "isn't needed for what I do," then let me propose a somewhat common problem. Suppose your client wants the built in reporting in your web application to minimize the amount of noise introduced by users who forget their password and create a new account rather than resetting it. It's up to you to write code to detect these duplicate accounts. How do you begin doing this beyond simple string comparisons?

Re:The Importance of a CS Degree (2, Insightful)

neonfreon (850801) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721091)

Why would anyone ever do this? "Excessive noise"? Oh, you mean more orders? Last time I checked, more entries in the database never hurt anyone (not like every user is going to create duplicate accounts to the point where you're running out of resources, user records are tiny anyhow). Writing some 'intelligent' algorithm to detect duplicate accounts will invariably lead to marking legitimately separate user's accounts as duplicates and eliminating business.

Ahh, but experience matters too..

Bingo (1)

localroger (258128) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721245)

Over the years I've never missed the degree I never got, but I have caught people with CS degrees doing bonehead things nobody who ever tried to do animation on a Commodore 64 would be dumb enough to try. Not knowing about floating point rounding errors comes up all the time, and is especially nasty when the pennies stop adding up right in the business math. One person I know at a large manufacturing concern insists that you should look for people with computer engineering degrees, because they are at least taught how the machine works. CS people aren't, and many of them have never written a program in a lower-level language than Javascript or stored data without the assistance of a DB engine.

Re:Bingo (1)

jorghis (1000092) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721315)

A CS degree really should teach basic computer architecture. If you are meeting CS grads who dont know "how the machine works" then that is more of a problem with the school that they went to.

It seems like since CS covers such a broad range of stuff universities are constantly trying to remove material in order to make the degree easier to obtain. If they arent dumbing down the architecture component of the degree they are removing theory, design, or something else that is perceived as being difficult. I dont really understand why this seems to happen so much more often in CS than in any engineering majors.

Re:Bingo (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721653)

It seems like since CS covers such a broad range of stuff some, rubbishy universities are constantly trying to remove material in order to make the degree easier to obtain.
There, fixed that for you.

Re:Bingo (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721503)

Funny how last week's lectures in CS201, Architecture and Assembly Language, told us pretty much how floating-point numbers work.

They made my brain hurt with all the special cases.

Re:Bingo (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721649)

Knowing the exceptions exist is half the battle. Really, a CS degree is good, but like someone said above, if the lowest language you've programmed in in school Java or some derivative then there's no way you should hny kind of degree with the word "computer" in it. I would say the same for C although it's infinitely better than Java for learning how to program, IMO. (In other words, learning how to avoid the problems Java, etc., supposedly helps prevent will make you a better programmer... I don't care what anyone says).

If you have done at least some assembly, turn in your nerd card on the way out. Writing an assembler would be good, but that was never required of me (BS CS, Va. Tech, 1987) so I guess I can't hold it against people.

However, in terms of looking for a software developer, I would place a high value on finding someone who has done coding for fun, learning or some other non-profit motive outside of work or education. Those are the people who _want_ to learn, and therefore are much more likely _to_ learn.

Re:Bingo (1)

pablodiazgutierrez (756813) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722195)

I completely agree. Java/.NET, etc. are great for getting large systems built relatively quickly and reliably. But they don't teach half of what's necessary to avoid huge pitfalls that end up biting you. Definitely not what a CS freshman should be first exposed to.

Re:The Importance of a CS Degree (0)

mike260 (224212) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721213)

A CS degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a good programmer. In my field (videogames), I'm not sure there's any correlation at all.

Re:The Importance of a CS Degree (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721661)

Well its the difference between and electrical engineer and an electrician.

You don't want to have an electrical engineer to come into your store to pull cables and try to remember all the building codes.
You don't want a regular electrician to design the circuit board that it going to be used as your circuit breaker in your store's back room.

I mean... You don't need a CS grad developing your web page, but you hope that a CS grad developed the operating system the web page runs on.

Demand Not There (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721935)

This is one of the reason why getting a CS degree is important, despite what the ignorant masses say in the IT industry. Sure writing lame CRUD applications will satisfy your average customer's needs, but sophisticated algorithms are what provide value beyond a simple shopping cart.

Yes, but what is the volume of demand? Google may need one AI expert for say every 200 "regular" programmers. Everybody wants to be King, but there is only one thrown.
       

Carried out with stones!? (1)

odsock (863358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20720897)

Its intuitions, of course, are just calculations -- given enough time they could be carried out with stones.
A computer attached to a properly tuned pitching machine is a beautiful thing.

I was surprised when I found out (1)

LM741N (258038) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721063)

that the Method of Moments was being applied to economic data. I always thought it was an EM simulation tool, but the theory is generally applicable.

Mainstream Media (1)

Phaid (938) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721101)

Yeah, I'm just waiting for "algorithms" to replace "on the ground" as the next overused buzzword in the media. "We asked General Petraeus about his algorithm for winning the war in Iraq" "Algorithmically, Bob, it seems the Steelers are unbeatable for this year's Superbowl" "That's right, Jane, it looks like mid-length skirts are the algorithm for fashion success this year" It's gonna be great!

An underclass? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20721181)

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
        Arthur C. Clarke, "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law)

just how close are we to having this statement be 'real' to a large majority of people on this planet? discounting any second or third world countries, how many people in first world countries would consider the 'oracular' nature of an algorithm to be 'magical'?
the education system spread throughout the world is creating an over and under society incapable of distinguishing high technology from magical sources. yep, this can only bode well for the future of humanity.

'i pray to you lord skynet, pls water my crops on the back 40!!!11 here is a sacrifice to your computations.....'

Re:An underclass? (1)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721313)

'i pray to you lord skynet, pls water my crops on the back 40!!!11 here is a sacrifice to your computations.....'
Brawndo: It's Got What Plants Crave!

Which algorithms will save humankind? (1)

Stochastism (1040102) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721423)

It's hard sometimes to explain to a person why algorithms are so important. I thought I'd try and list the top 5 informatics/comp sci. algorithms that *really* help peoples day to day lives. Reply with more! 5. Stero image reconstruction: Now just for cute things like Hawk-eye in tennis and cricket, soon to read road signs and stop you from hitting pedestrians. Also a cornerstone of robotics. 4. Quicksort and other sorting algorithms. It would take decades to sort even a city phone book without O(n log n) sorting. 3. Cryptography/Cryptoanalysis: Lets you shop online, and breaking crypto saved hundreds of thousands of lives in WWII. 2. Pagerank and hashing: Even the unitiated can learn the world's pooled knowledge. Once access to all opinions and all knowledge is free (in every sense of the word), true civilisation might be achievable. 1. Fast fourier transform and friends: We rely on this for most of our communication, and image/movie/audio compression. Machine learing algorithms are important, but they are not important enough to make this list, yet.

Re:Which algorithms will save humankind? (1)

rm999 (775449) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721889)

I agree - algorithms are underrated by traditional programmers, who have an attitude that they can build any algorithm when they need it. Problem is, most "naive" algorithms, which is what an untrained person would develop, far under-perform state of the art algorithms. It's critical to know algorithms if you want to be anything less than a code monkey.

I am in the machine learning field, and am patiently waiting for more useful applications to pop up. I know plenty of things out there could use machine learning, which indicates to me that the algorithms are still not good enough for the real world. The only useful applications that I have seen so far are in finance and money (predicting the value of something, detecting fraud, etc) and search (I'm pretty sure Google is using machine learning in their search already). If you count optimization as machine learning, a lot of industrial applications have popped up.

Re:Which algorithms will save humankind? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721983)

You left out B-trees. They are the heart of indexing in most RDBMS.

Quicksort and other sorting algorithms. It would take decades to sort even a city phone book without O(n log n) sorting.

I always found forms of Bucket-Sort to be a simple (intuitive) yet effective concept in most cases. Early card sorters used it IINM. And, it is well-suited to parallelism.
     

Common inventor (1)

teorth (582980) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721617)

It was the Internet that stripped the word [algorithm] of its innocence.

This is somewhat ironic, since both the internet and the algorithm were invented by the same person [wikipedia.org]. :-)

Idiotic (2, Funny)

sirdisc (988740) | more than 6 years ago | (#20721817)

This is completely idiotic. All logic works based on algorithms, whether it's in your head or in a computer. Only a monkey or someone with an agenda would write such article. "The Gradual Public Awareness of the Might of Algorithms" eh???????????????????

Day in the Sun? (1)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 5 years ago | (#20722251)

I'm getting my day in the sun? What did I do wrong? I'm sorry! I won't do it again, please let me back inside! I'm getting a tan. Help!

Luhn's Algorithm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20722499)

In TFA they give an example of an algorithm to validate a credit card number. The funny thing is that steep 2 is not needed at all, you would get the same result without it.
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