One of my projects is to reverse-engineer software techniques into social techniques.
We desperately need to get a grip on our problems, and the computer has given us some new tools to do this – or to be more exact, software and the Internet has given us these tools. Software geeks are some of the most socially-unaware people on the earth. If I tell them that software development is a social process, all I get from them is blank looks.
But these guys (and gals) barely know enough to find their way to the bathroom – and can be safely ignored. The knowledgeable ones, however, know immediately what I am talking about – and promptly amplify on it. However, at the same time it must be said that their focus is entirely on software, and applying their findings to the world at large never occurs to them.
Software become obsessed (and that is not too strong a word) with Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) and all the Chicken Littles in the industry (the majority, by far) immediately started kissing its ass – with fervor. And cranking out garbage applications.
I am not too bright myself, and I could only watch this mass insanity in astonishment. But their basic idea, the idea of the object, has a lot of potential – if it is transferred back to the human world. I will explain.
The newest technique, and the most powerful one, in the social sciences is the idea of using a model to represent the world. As they will immediately say, this is nothing new – thinking of any kind requires some kind of representation, or simplification, of the world being thought about.
I once had a brain hemorrhage (a temporary one, fortunately) which knocked out the language centers in my brain. I could not talk, but only but blabber nonsense. I knew what was wrong with me, but without language I could not say what was wrong, even to myself. It was very frustrating, believe me. But it taught me a lesson: thinking required language – something few people realize.
And language (our most important invention) is a way of modeling the world in our brain. Immediately, this gets into Linguistics. And I still have the book The Atoms of Language: The minds hidden rules of grammar unread in my library. I am not smart enough to understand it – and I suspect I am not alone.
But I can understand the basics of programming – which are simple, just a list instructions: do this, then this, then this – in short, an algorithm. A software object contains just such an algorithm. This is what constitutes its smarts. And this immediately brings up an important objection.
Can a algorithm model something so complex as a person – or even worse, a society? People like to say emphatically “No!”. They think they have a magical ingredient that cannot be analyzed. Madison Avenue knows better – it has been analyzing people, and manipulating them for quite a while. It doesn’t know exactly how people work – but that doesn’t matter, approximations are good enough. And their approximations keep getting better and better.
Here we are getting into Cognitive Psychology, which has learned quite a bit about how people work. Its findings have made it abundantly clear that we are not logical beings – something we have known for a long time, actually – but it also knows how we are not logical – very important information that we could use to understand ourselves – if we wanted to.
We are now closer to being able to model human behavior – using objects to represent us. Some scientists are trying to model the human brain – an admirable, if very difficult task.
But that is not necessary – all we have to do is model our behavior, as I said in a recent posting Good Economics. The model here is simple, and does not need a computer to interpret it. There is only one problem – people are ignoring it!
And this is the overall problem – people are incapable of using their noodles, computers or no computers!
I will stubbornly press on, however, and write as though someone could understand. You will be hearing more about this.