Tangential comments about Software Development

Friday, July 13, 2012

Small is Beautiful

From Small is Beautiful - A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (London 1973) by E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977)

Chapter VI.i A Machine to Foretell the Future?

While the Greeks went to living oracles, ... the Chinese, remarkably, went to a book setting out the universal and necessary pattern of changes. ... Modern man goes to the computer.

Before anyone makes a prediction, he should be able to give a convincing reason why the factor to which his prediction refers is inherently predictable.

'Plans' are put forward which upon inspection turn out to relate to events totally outside the control of the planner. 'Forecasts' are offered which upon inspection turn out to be conditional sentences, in other words, exploratory calculations. The latter are misinterpreted as if they were forecasts or predictions. 'Estimates' are put forward which upon inspection turn out to be plans.

Of course, an electronic computer can work out a vast number of permutations, employing various assumptions, within a few seconds or minutes... But the point is that the non-electronic brain need never attempt to do that job. By the power of judgement it can concentrate on a few decisive parameters which are quite sufficient to outline the ranges of reasonable probability.