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IBM Using Complex Math To Manage Natural Disasters

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the stopping-a-flood-with-natural-logs dept.

Math 115

coondoggie brings us a NetworkWorld story about IBM's efforts to use complex algorithms to manage responses to natural disasters. Researchers are making use of recent increases in processor speed and algorithm efficiency to develop a scalable, flexible model capable of handling the complicated planning involved in reacting to a crisis. Quoting: "'We are creating a set of intellectual properties and software assets that can be employed to gauge and improve levels of preparedness to tackle unforeseen natural disasters,' says Dr. Gyana Parija. 'Most real-world problems involve uncertainty, and this has been the inspiration for us to tackle challenges in natural disaster management.' In the case of flooding, for example, the stochastic programming model would use various flood scenarios, resource supply capabilities at different dispatch locations, and fixed and variable costs associated with deployment of various flood-management resources to manage various risk measures. By assigning probabilities to the factors driving outcomes, the model outlines how limited resources can meet tomorrow's unknown demands or liabilities. In this way, the risks and rewards of various tradeoffs can be explored, IBM said."

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It won't save us (4, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958426)

High-performance computing won't save us from idiots in high places, even during natural disasters. Case in point: Michael D. Brown [wikipedia.org] , who was in charge of FEMA during the Hurricane Katrina ordeal. From the wikipedia article:

"...Some members interviewed felt Brown showed an imperious attitude, and nicknamed him 'The Czar'."

Heckuva job, Brownie! More optimistically, I hope that their algorithms could predict the 4 or 5 "wild"- fires in Southern California which are all started mysteriously(on the same day) "in season."

Re:It won't save us (5, Interesting)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958526)

More optimistically, I hope that their algorithms could predict the 4 or 5 "wild"- fires in Southern California which are all started mysteriously(on the same day) "in season."


Shouldn't be too hard. One of the things they discovered while studying line noise in telephone circuits is that the cause of the noise doesn't matter: it could be induction from nearby motors, bad connections influenced by the wind, or short-circuits triggered by someone dropping a screwdriver -- it all fits into the statistical patterns. In the case of fires, it doesn't matter if it's lightning, arson, or volcanic eruption, the pattens still hold.

Re:It won't save us (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958910)

i'd parse your post but i'm still stuck on your sig.

to almost alliterate a little.

Re:It won't save us (2, Funny)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 6 years ago | (#22963300)

it all fits into the statistical patterns. In the case of fires, it doesn't matter if it's lightning, arson, or volcanic eruption, the pattens still hold.
It leads one to wonder whether being statistically significant, is itself statistically significant?

Re:It won't save us (2, Insightful)

Lurker2288 (995635) | more than 6 years ago | (#22963594)

What you say may be true, but I can't help but think of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his black swans. He would argue that while your wild fires might fit the existing statistical models, a REAL disaster, the kind with the potential to really knock the country on its ass, would be essentially impossible to predict. I'm not sure I entirely buy into his thinking, but you have to admit, it's usually the unexpected stuff that produces the greatest impact.

Re:It won't save us (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958852)

I wonder if it's a coincidence that this news came just a couple days after the EPA announced it was banning IBM from bidding on future contracts.


"Hey, look at what our scientists are coming up with using advanced supercomputer models to forecast hurricanes, forest fires, and climate change! Here are the predictions for the rest of 2008, 2009, 2010..." (holds printouts close to face) "...wow, these are potentially devastating consequences for the ol' USA unless our government leaders are unusually skillful and courageous...."

Re:It won't save us (4, Funny)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959408)

Heckuva job, Brownie! More optimistically, I hope that their algorithms could predict the 4 or 5 "wild"- fires in Southern California which are all started mysteriously(on the same day) "in season."
What's your guess? Blackwater, with black helicopters, in the forest? I'm going with Col. Mustard, with the candle-stick, in the grasslands.

Re:It won't save us (4, Funny)

gnick (1211984) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959614)

I hope that their algorithms could predict the 4 or 5 "wild"- fires in Southern California which are all started mysteriously
If there's enough money in it, I can predict a mysterious fire just about anywhere at any time.

Re:It won't save us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22963726)

You're an engineer, huh?

Re:It won't save us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22959850)

I already run that program and the answer I got was 42.

Seriously, keep adding abstractions and bureaucracy levels between the disaster and the executive and the results will son be tragicomic.

-Fear no more citizens of Los Angeles we have brought with us all available rescuers in the US.
-But the storm was in New York..
-Oh no we better hurry.
-..3 months ago.

The news headlines three months ago:
-The fate of all the rescuers in the US is still unknown after they activated the infinite beauro-maton. Who knows where the electronic bureaucrat will spit them out and in what state....

Re:It won't save us (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960012)

More optimistically, I hope that their algorithms could predict the 4 or 5 "wild"- fires in Southern California which are all started mysteriously(on the same day) "in season."

The algorithms aren't designed to predict disasters, but to manage the response to disasters in progress. (Which isn't actually very easy.)

Re:It won't save us (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#22962728)

Well, to be a contrarian, Brown may have deserved censure, but I think criticism of him is exaggerated. In some ways, his most distinctive failings were political.

True, the real issue was that FEMA wasn't ready, and he was supposed to be in charge making sure it was ready, but it's not like he's just one bad apple in the bunch. He might not have recommended enough, but the administration didn't even back him in what he had recommended.

As for his imperiousness, well, what do you expect? When the higher ups don't want to hear bad news, somebody's got to be the one who is the face of unresponsiveness to the people trying to prepare for the worst. I can't think of a single instance of a crisis this administration was even remotely prepared for, even crises of their own making.

It's gotten to the point where this almost works for them. When an administration official gets up and says something starting with "Nobody could have forseen...," nobody expects them to have foreen whatever it was, or to have listened to the people below them who were forecasting it all along. When the pressure gets too much, they just pick a patsy to throw to the wolves, but the real problem is that the whole lot of them are managing the country from the viewpoint of an alternate reality.

Then the President will sanctimoniously tell us that this stuff is "hard work", which is true. It is also why it would be good idea to govern like these problems need to be addressed by more than managing the bad news until the only thing you can do is find a scapegoat.

complex math... (5, Funny)

Runagate Rampant (602123) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958430)

sqrt(-1) = natural disaster!

Re:complex math... (5, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958718)

sqrt(-1) = natural disaster!


That's an imaginary natural disaster

Re:complex math / Oblig. XKCD (1)

colenski (552404) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960064)

Re:complex math... (1)

Rocketship Underpant (804162) | more than 6 years ago | (#22961202)

I guess a rational response is out of the question, then.

Re:complex math... (2, Funny)

The_reformant (777653) | more than 6 years ago | (#22961654)

sqrt(-2) = Irrational Imaginary Natural Disaster

Re:complex math... (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22963232)

sqrt(-pi) = Transcending Irrational Imaginary Natural Disasters

Re:complex math... (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 6 years ago | (#22962024)

sqrt(-1) = natural disaster!
That's an imaginary natural disaster


So are we talking about the SimCity disaster button that unleashes a monster or ufo attack?

Re:complex math... (2, Funny)

isomeme (177414) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958790)

I hear the river is expected to crest at 5 + 3i feet over flood stage.

Re:complex math... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958858)

At least it's natural. Without a canonical basis around which to define natural transformations, it'd become an unnatural disaster.

Re:complex math... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22959394)

More like: e^pi*i+1= George Bush hates black people

I'm skeptical (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958434)

Things this macroscopic generally can't be modeled very well.

Re:I'm skeptical (1, Funny)

andy666 (666062) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958460)

Yeah! Who do they think they are ? If their so smart, why aren't they rich ?

Re:I'm skeptical (2, Interesting)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960470)

Want to know something REALLY funny about your comment? The reality is that what they are talking about is typically applied to financial modeling. Though part of the problem we have right now is that the quants ("really smart") guys screwed up the analysis and underdid the risk.

Thus the reason why they are with IBM doing analysis using stochastic modeling is because they failed in the financial industry. They did not improve returns and thus needed another industry that they could tap for money.

I work in the financial industry and cracked up laughing when I saw "the science."

Re:I'm skeptical (1)

MrMr (219533) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960862)

Funny, I recall IBM going into chem-pharm consulting about two decades too late and trying to pull exactly that trick there as well...

Government (4, Insightful)

boris111 (837756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958446)

Can they model government indifference to the people's plight?

Easy (4, Funny)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958584)


if(contribution_of_lobbiests_impacted > 100000000)
do_something(); /* better respond to them */
else
ignore_poor_people(); /* who cares */

Re:Easy (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958660)

PeopleWhoUseUnderscoresInTheirVariableAndFunctionNames = null; /* Okay, I'll get off your lawn. Sheesh. */

At least... (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958670)

You didn't use Hungarian.

Re:Easy (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959464)

Use of Assignment function for testing a variable: -1 and your nerd card revoked.

Re:Easy (3, Informative)

Wrath0fb0b (302444) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960738)

First off, he was assigning them to null, not testing whether they are null, so the syntax is correct.

Secondly, while I know it's somewhat rude make an issue of sigs, you are aware that actual children are harmed in the making of child pornography, right?

Re:Easy (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960834)

Yes, and if it were legalized the sick bastards would be caught much faster.

Re:Government (2, Insightful)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958702)

Why is P modded 'flamebait'? He asks a relevant question. The response of government officials may unfortunately be the biggest factor in calculating how to deal with a disaster.

Re:Government (1)

mightyQuin (1021045) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959076)

I was wondering the exact same thing. Flamebait seems a little harsh for a valid question.

The mods are being rather abrasive and cruel. Maybe the new page style is setting them off?

Re:Government (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958886)

"Can they model government indifference to the people's plight?"

FTA: "The model allows all unforeseen challenges to be solved..."

Apparently, yes.

Re:Government (1)

GeffDE (712146) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959502)

"Can they model government indifference to the people's plight?"

FTA: "The model allows all unforeseen challenges to be solved..."

I hardly think that the government's indifference could be, ahem, classified as an unforeseen challenge.

Though I suppose, if the problem is foreseen, it could also probably be dealt with as well.

Re:Government (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958954)

Can they model government indifference to the people's plight?
Is there any point to modeling another type of government?

IBM vs Natural Disaster (0)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958450)

Natural Disaster: "Hey, look at me! I am a natural disaster! I destroy things!

IBM scientist: "No you don't. According to our complex mathematical calculations you do not exist."

Natural Disaster: "What a load of crock! Ofcourse I ex...."*poof*

Re:IBM vs Natural Disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22959118)

This isn't funny.

Re:IBM vs Natural Disaster (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959960)

"This disaster is mathematically impossible. Move along, nothing to see here."

Complex math? (1, Funny)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958468)

Complex math? Aren't real numbers good enough for the job?

Re:Complex math? (5, Funny)

sapphire wyvern (1153271) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958510)

Complex math? Aren't real numbers good enough for the job?
You need the imaginary axis to quantify FEMA's competency. :)

Re:Complex math? (1)

wild_berry (448019) | more than 6 years ago | (#22962676)

I doubt it. Uniform zero doesn't need an imaginary axis.

Re:Complex math? (1)

jdagius (589920) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958698)

>> Complex math? Aren't real numbers good enough for the job?

RTFA. It's not about imaginary numbers. That's "complex" as in "complicated" math, specifically stochastic algorithms, which are probability contrained problems dealing with random variables!

Re:Complex math? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958840)

Pretty sure sie's making a jab at incorrectly using the phrase "complex math" in the title. complex math != complicated math. It's math with complex numbers.

You would think the slashdot crowd of all places would know this. Oh well.

Re:Complex math? (1)

GeffDE (712146) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959514)

Obviously, he's not from here. He suggesting reading TFA, for instance.

Re:Complex math? (5, Informative)

jonadab (583620) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960194)

> That's "complex" as in "complicated" math

In mathematics, "complex" does not mean complicated any more than "proper" means correct or "rational" means sane or "group" means any old gathering or collection. These words have very specific meanings in mathematics, and using them for their general-English meaning, in the context of math, is at best confusing and at worst outright misleading.

You can talk about a "complex algorithm", and people will generally understand you mean a complicated one, because the word "algorithm" lends more of a computer-science context. You can say "complex way of doing things" and convey the idea of complicatedness, because "way of doing things" is sufficiently general that it doesn't really imply any particular context at all. But saying "complex math" very much conveys the idea of the use of complex numbers (i.e., numbers with a real part and an imaginary part, either or neither or both of which may be zero for any given number) because the word "math" strongly implies a mathematics context and draws the math-jargon sense of the word "complex" to the forefront. Only someone who doesn't *know* what the word "complex" means in mathematics would think of any other meaning.

It's like saying "hedge fund" and expecting people to get the idea that you're collecting money for shrubberies. Only someone with no idea what a hedge fund is would get that impression.

Re:Complex math? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22960362)

It's like saying "hedge fund" and expecting people to get the idea that you're collecting money for shrubberies. Only someone with no idea what a hedge fund is would get that impression.


You mean they're not!?!?!

What am I going to do with all those shrubs I just bought? I got it! Torch them and see how well this model works!

Re:Complex math? (0, Troll)

EveLibertine (847955) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960538)

I wasn't confused, and neither apparently were most of the people in this thread, let alone everyone else responding who didn't mention this gaff. Your complaints are nothing more than nerd pedantry. Also, your analogy is awful. Furthermore, you are complaining about the title of a slashdot post, and it is well known that the editors hardly pay attention to the titles of these posts, let alone the content that follows.

In short, I'd like to congratulate you on your Perfect Slashdot Post.

Re:Complex math? (1)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22961710)

It's like saying "hedge fund" and expecting people to get the idea that you're collecting money for shrubberies.

We are the Knights who say 'Ni'!

Re:Complex math? (3, Informative)

jdagius (589920) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958894)

I repeat: RTFA. This so-called "complex math" is _not_ about imaginary numbers! It's about stochastic programming and _complex algorithms_ (i.e. complicated). Why don't you mod me up (for a change) so you people can get this straight.

"The idea is to use high-level math techniques, which IBM calls Stochastic programming, to help speed up and simplify complex tasks "

Re:Complex math? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22959154)

I repeat, I think they know and are joking about what is really called complex math!

Patents (4, Insightful)

LeoDavinci578 (795523) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958516)

Oh man, I just loved this: "We are creating a set of intellectual properties and software assets that can be employed to gauge and improve levels of preparedness to tackle unforeseen natural disasters"

Awesome, now they get to patent how to respond to natural disasters so that no one else can innovate... another victory for our wonderful patent process!

before the flood of replies... (5, Informative)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958556)

Before everyone starts smarting at this thing 'predicting' natural disasters, please read the summary carefully (I know your not going to read the article). The math and system is designed to help deal with natural disasters that do happen (like optimizing your relief delivery path, plotting the best places to contain/fight a forest fire, etc etc). It is also used to evaluate how best, and how well current resources could be used in a natural disaster by predicting (yes, there is it, a prediction) most likely challenges, problems, scale and the like. I think it's useful.
<p>
The new thing with this apparently is that they're using a new mathematical model that previously was too computationally expensive to do on a large scale. Computers are powerful enough to use these models now.

Re:before the flood of replies... (1)

Quasar Sera (838279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959168)

And no matter how mathematically or computationally complex, much boils down to the quality of data and set of assumptions employed in the model.

Re:before the flood of replies... (0)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960152)

Sounds like a money sink-hole once the beaurocrats get a hold of it. In the old days we used to be able to do this sort of stuff with pencils and a really large napkin.

Thank Bush (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958576)

Basically Bush, by intentionally mismanaging FEMA, showed the leg necessary to attract the attention of corporate America. Now we can have IBM some in and "save the day" when the government was perfectly capable of managing natural disaster rescue and recovery prior to Bush. Watch all your tax money go to these private corporations. And they will be funding the lawmakers (via the lobbying bribes called campaign contributions)) to insure things can never go back. Review Bush's recent plan for new "regulations" for the U.S. economy for more of the same.

building a vessel to float on almost any substance (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958608)

no gadgets required. &, the bug-free, user-friendly, newclear powered kode is available to all. there's never any liesense or cover charge. see you there? let yOUR conscience be yOUR guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. there are still some choices. if they do not suit you, consider the likely results of continuing to follow the corepirate nazi hypenosys story LIEn, whereas anything of relevance is replaced almost instantly with pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking propaganda or 'celebrity' trivia 'foam'. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on yOUR brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071229/ap_on_sc/ye_climate_records;_ylt=A0WTcVgednZHP2gB9wms0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080108/ts_alt_afp/ushealthfrancemortality;_ylt=A9G_RngbRIVHsYAAfCas0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31mon1.html?em&ex=1199336400&en=c4b5414371631707&ei=5087%0A [nytimes.com]

is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

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dictator style micro management has never worked (for very long). it's an illness. tie that with life0cidal aggression & softwar gangster style bullying, & what do we have? a greed/fear/ego based recipe for disaster. meanwhile, you can help to stop the bleeding (loss of life & limb);

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the bleeding must be stopped before any healing can begin. jailing a couple of corepirate nazi hired goons would send a clear message to the rest of the world from US. any truthful look at the 'scorecard' would reveal that we are a society in decline/deep doo-doo, despite all of the scriptdead pr ?firm? generated drum beating & flag waving propaganda that we are constantly bombarded with. is it time to get real yet? please consider carefully ALL of yOUR other 'options'. the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

as there are no benefits, just more&more death/debt & disruption. fortunately there's an 'army' of light bringers, coming yOUR way. the little ones/innocents must/will be protected. after the big flash, ALL of yOUR imaginary 'borders' may blur a bit? for each of the creators' innocents harmed in any way, there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/us, as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile, will not be available. 'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet, & by your behaviors. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi glowbull warmongering execrable. some of US should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate. it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc.... as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis. concern about the course of events that will occur should the life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order. 'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

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meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

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whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

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& pretending that it isn't happening here;

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all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

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That's what an iMac is for (1, Funny)

Charles Dodgeson (248492) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958638)

Clearly complex math needs to be computed on an iMac.

Re:That's what an iMac is for (0, Offtopic)

maglor_83 (856254) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959468)

Did somebody steal the mods' happy pills today or something?

What about man mande disasters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958666)

Can you predict them? Every now and then, an especially incompetent "leader" seems to gain power some how, and it usually ends in tears. Can they predict this fluctuation in the cycle of the human animal and it's society?

Re:What about man mande disasters? (2, Insightful)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 6 years ago | (#22961096)

It's not about predicting the disasters per se, but about modeling the best way to respond to the disasters.

In other words, it's concerned with how you get drinking water to the Superdome long enough to get everyone out; it's not concerned with determining where the hurricane lands to begin with.

EVIL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958678)

We are creating a set of intellectual properties and software assets

Evil. EVIL. EEEEVIL!

Quantifiable (1)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958862)

Natural disaster may be quantifiable, but do we really want some heartless machine deciding who lives and dies in the case of an emergency? Anyone see I-Robot?

I don't mean to sound like a stereotypical paranoid geek, but we give too much power to machines they will start controlling our life.

Re:Quantifiable (4, Interesting)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958906)

...but we give too much power to machines they will start controlling our life.

You get either a machine or a bureaucrat. Take your choice. At least with a machine, you can turn it off. Just try to get rid of an incompetent bureaucrat or crooked politician who appoints him.

How would you rather choose? (1)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 6 years ago | (#22961234)

The current system (letting nepotically chosen subordinates with no experience in their field) doesn't seem to be working out that well, either. At least with a computer program, you can examine the criteria and decide if it makes sense.

It something like triaging patients in a mass casualty - in the case of limited resources and nearly unlimited casualties, you spend the doctors & nurses time where it will do the most good. Saving a 5 year old with massive head trauma may make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but if that time costs the lives of three adults... well, it's never an easy choice to make, and sometimes it would be easier to let a computer make these kinds of harsh decisions.

Re:Quantifiable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22962080)

Anyone see I-Robot?

No.

Obligatory (3, Funny)

fixer007 (851350) | more than 6 years ago | (#22958942)

I was told there would be no math...

Intellectual Properties (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22958992)

In the case of a natural disaster please check with your lawyer before responding.

You may be infringing on a patent...

Short Term FEMA Math... (2, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959010)

Natural Disaster + Presidential Photo-Ops = Great PR!

Re:Short Term FEMA Math... (1)

aleger (741695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22962516)

Natural Disaster + Presidential Photo-Ops = Great PR!
I would insert line: rollupsleeve(all politicians)

Obligatory (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959024)

I wonder how long it would take for Charles Eppes to show up...

"unforseen"? (3, Funny)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959068)

From TFA: "to tackle unforeseen natural disasters"

But then it goes on to talk about mostly foreseeable natural disasters. If you live on a flood plain or a low-lying coastal area subject to hurricanes, you're going to get flooded. In an earthquake zone you're going to get earthquakes. Lot of vegetation in an area that has dry spells, fires. And so on.

Legitimately unforeseen natural disasters would be things like a comet impact [imdb.com] , volcanoes erupting in downtown LA [imdb.com] , or perhaps alien invasion [imdb.com] . Oh wait, that last would be an unnatural disaster, wouldn't it? But come to think of it, the ones I just mentioned have all been foreseen too.

I guess I just don't foresee a need for this software. Maybe they should work on software for foreseeable disasters.

Re:"unforseen"? (1)

lexDysic (542023) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959858)

From TFA: "to tackle unforeseen natural disasters"

Legitimately unforeseen natural disasters would be things like a comet impact [imdb.com] , volcanoes erupting in downtown LA [imdb.com] , or perhaps alien invasion [imdb.com] . Oh wait, that last would be an unnatural disaster, wouldn't it? But come to think of it, the ones I just mentioned have all been foreseen too. I guess I just don't foresee a need for this software. Maybe they should work on software for foreseeable disasters.
What about the Spanish Inquisition? No one forsees the Spanish Inquisition.

Re:"unforseen"? (1)

slider3618 (1211542) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960156)

Apparently no one watches Monty Python anymore :(

Monte Carlo (2, Insightful)

alexhard (778254) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959138)

From what I could gather from the summary, this sounds like a glorified Monte Carlo simulation, not exactly something newsworthy..

Re:Monte Carlo (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22959578)

Well, stochastic programming is most definitely not a "glorified Monte Carlo simulation", which is based on random trials, and not guaranteed to find any sort of optimum. In fact, stochastic programming isn't really simulation-based at all. It's more like a set of optimization techniques for solving problems with parametric uncertainties.

The idea behind it is that parametric uncertainties that can be characterized using a probability distribution. The optimization algorithm itself is often deterministic. (e.g. LP or NLP routines)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stochastic_programming [wikipedia.org]

The word "complex" is misplaced -- I think the author meant complicated. Stochastic problems of nontrivial size require significant computational horsepower to solve, and benefit tremendously from good formulations and massive computational resources.

That said, I agree, it's not really that newsworthy.

Source code (0, Troll)

coolhaus (186994) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959212)

#!/bin/bash

for i in "Kanye West";

do echo "George Bush hates black people"; done

Re:Source code (0, Offtopic)

coolhaus (186994) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959270)

Ok, yeah, I realize that it would have been better as:

do echo ${i} 'said that George Bush hates black people'

Feel free to Bash me as you please.

ROFL.... (1)

lord merlin (753130) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959284)

Someone has been watching too many episodes of numb3rs....

Hat. Old. (4, Interesting)

PJ The Womble (963477) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959340)

I used to do Delphi stuff (I know) for a firm of insurance actuaries. They were writing code for (essentially) predicting how long it would take to pay out for natural disasters. They had some very clever Stochastics in there, along with some nice triangulation/vector stuff too: I remember the names Bornhuetter and Ferguson (sadly it's been a long time and there's been the odd small sweet sherry since, so life isn't that clear recently).

What I do remember though, is that I mentioned to my superiors that a case-based reasoning engine would take a lot of the (non-discrete) math out of the whole thing. Because things happen and we learn from them. Has the nature of nature changed, or was I wrong in the first place?

Re:Hat. Old. (3, Insightful)

PJ The Womble (963477) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959426)

It's just occured to me that my comment above is a nearly a good example for the discussion (on here? maybe) the other day about the desirability of more complex algorithms, versus the greater and greater amounts of data available, when data mining. Any thoughts?

Re:Hat. Old. (1)

PJ The Womble (963477) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959658)

Cripes, I can't buy a response on here these days! It's 03.45 here now, the wife's in bed and I'm to all intents and purposes stuffed. Who could have predicted that? Nor Bornhuetter and Ferguson for sure.

She's a foot shorter than me but that stuff about a good big 'un beating a good little 'un every time is so much foo!

Wasn't it Peter Cook, in his incarnation as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, who said "Certainly I have learned from my mistakes. And if I had to start all over again, I'm sure I could repeat them exactly!" That's case-based reasoning for you.

Goodbye world!

$Millions for IBM, $0 for New Orleans (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959532)

And so the Federal government will spend $millions, probably $billions, on no-bid contracts for all kinds of fancy gear, but still won't fix the levees protecting New Orleans.

Re:$Millions for IBM, $0 for New Orleans (1)

PJ The Womble (963477) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959664)

There are no hafnium deposits there, I fear.

Re:$Millions for IBM, $0 for New Orleans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22962368)

Not if they get debarred first.

http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080331/ibm_contract_ban.html [yahoo.com]

Operations Research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22959582)

In other words they are using techniques from the area of applied math called Operations Research [wikipedia.org] . Whats new about that? It has been used for years for planning of resources for natural disasters.

IBM Claiming Patent for 'Responding to Chaos' (2, Informative)

theodp (442580) | more than 6 years ago | (#22959864)

And thanks to IBM, responding to a crisis of 9/11 or Katrina magnitude strikes may constitute patent infringement. Big Blue has a patent pending for Optimizing the Selection, Verification, and Deployment of Expert Resources in a Time of Chaos [uspto.gov] , which covers responding to 'episodes of profound chaos during hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves, solar flares, flooding, terrorism, war, and pandemics to name a few.' It's apparently this easy [flickr.com] .

Stochastic programming? (3, Informative)

YetAnotherOnlineAcct (1267424) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960498)

Back in the mid 90's I was working on some logistics systems. I remember seeing a software package from some Swedish company that used stochastic programming. The software did spare parts optimization. Tell it what sort of spares you need (Jet engines, parts for oil well), where you need them (O'Hare, an oil rig), how much they cost (I don't know!), how much they cost to store, where you have warehouses, how much storage costs, how long it takes to get one if you need to order it from Boeing or something, what's the interest rate if you need to borrow the money to buy the parts, how long it takes to get from the storage site to where it's needed, and of course the failure rate of the parts, and a few more things I can't remember......

In other words, it took LOTS of data.

But, once you entered the data, you could tell the system "I want 99.999% uptime" and it would give you the most cost efficient way to buy and store the parts needed. Or you could start with a budget and find out what sort of availability you could afford. Depending on the size of the operation and criticality of the availability you could save a lot of money or really help with availability.

It sounds like this software does something similar. In the spares optimization, you don't know which airport your plane will be at when it's engine needs replacing. In the disaster scenario, you don't know where the disaster will strike. In the first case, you're optimizing spare part allocation. In the second you're optimizing recovery supplies and equipment. Either way you get the best probabilities you can and optimize the best you can.

Yeah, I know. I read the article. AND posted an on-topic, very un-funny comment. I must be new here. Well, this user ID is new, at least.

Re:Stochastic programming? (1)

YetAnotherOnlineAcct (1267424) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960658)

Yes, I'm replying to myself, but I didn't really make my point well.

My point is that the technique isn't new.

Using Stochastic programming to solve this sort of problem isn't new.

Using it to solve this sort of problem can be done, but takes a lot of data and isn't easy to use.

stupid (3, Insightful)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960580)

"'We are creating a set of intellectual properties and software assets that can be employed to gauge and improve levels of preparedness to tackle unforeseen natural disasters,' says Dr. Gyana Parija.

Many research groups are working on simulation and prediction of behavior, natural disasters, preparedness, etc. But the first words out of an IBM researcher's mouth are "intellectual properties and software assets".

Shame on you.

Natural Disaster (1)

supertsaar (540181) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960780)

IBM is a bit of a natural disaster all by itself.....

new tag? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22960794)

Maybe there should be another tag added? 'Dharma' ? :)

New payents for upcoming disasters? (1)

tashammer (905647) | more than 6 years ago | (#22960938)

i am very suspicious that a large corporation such as IBM is beavering away creating and no doubt patenting "intellectual properties" that may cover critical ares of need with the advent of global warming, global dimming and the potential water level rises. Seems somewhat opportunistic when it would appear to be global PTSD. (Just think of Katrina on a global scale).

WHAT'S THAT SMELL? (2)

ancient_kings (1000970) | more than 6 years ago | (#22961138)

Oh, yet another SD article completely composed of BS! Geeez, can we stop with the "I'm using really, REALLY complex (math/algorithms/hardware/physics/chemistry/lollipops) so therefore, my research can do this impossible task that nobody else can do. What's funny, in a year or two, all is forgotten about said "complex algorithms" ...blah..blah...blah...

Fight fire with fire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22961264)

Complex math??? The cure sounds worse than the disease...

When dealing with natural disasters, I stick to the natural numbers.

Yours,
math flunker

We are in the midst of failure of such analysis... (2, Informative)

Money for Nothin' (754763) | more than 6 years ago | (#22961696)

The current financial market crisis is considered by many economists and finance professionals to be due in part to the failure of such computationally-intensive risk-management models as those it sounds like IBM is creating.

This was done in the 70s (1)

benwiggy (1262536) | more than 6 years ago | (#22962862)

I think you'll find that Led Zeppelin identified the problem some years ago:

"If it keeps on raining: levee's gonna break.
When the levee breaks: mama, you got to move."

FEMA have been using this model for some time now.....

Perhaps it does need a rethink.

Too bad (1)

Hythlodaeus (411441) | more than 6 years ago | (#22963414)

Too bad they can't sell this to the FEMA anymore.
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