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Relying on Algorithms

By Steve Jones,

We are increasingly living in a world that is affected by software (and the data it uses). I have to admit that I'm slightly worried about this as I look at the quality of software, the bugs, the lack of effective testing. It's not that companies don't perform a lot of testing; many do, but it seems that many developers, and even QA people, don't really know how to effectively test. This is especially true of testing for abnormal or unexpected situations. It there's one area of software development that seems woefully immature, it's testing.

However testing isn't the only problem. We might not like the way that software is designed, and used, to alter our world. As we become more dependent on software to accomplish tasks for us, we will run into new situations that the software may not have been designed to handle. This opinion piece on the ways in which software might alter our lives is both fascinating and scary. How do we want software to behave in unfamiliar situations? It's not an easy question to answer, and it's certainly not a question with a simple answer in many scenarios.

We learn to depend on systems when they work for us. Whether in business, government, or our personal lives, when a system works, we want to use it more. However that's not always the best long term solution. Humans adapt, and software, especially the systems using a constant stream of historical data for decisions, has flaws. More than a few of you might have encountered this type of situation with Netflix or Amazon recommendations when you have kids sharing your account. 

In some sense I think that we not only need adaptive algorithms, that we can customize over time, but we also need to understand the data that flows through the algorithms. We need ways to remove some data from consideration by the software, when we find it is removing more value than it is adding.

Steve Jones


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