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Hazy Computing

Today machines manage what we cannot. Are we dependent upon results or processes we do not understand?

Recently, there was an interesting article in the New York Times. The article brought up some fascinating issues about our reliance on computers — particularly in the world of finance. I touched on this briefly before and I think the article raises some good points. Basically, the “Wall Street geeks” or “quants” (quantitative analysts) develop sophisticated algorithms (evolutionary or Genetic Algorithms, GA’s) that package up securities with all the right attributes to make them attractive to other buyers. The interesting thing is that these types of algorithms produce results (in a sense “optimizations”) that people don’t really understand. In the past, I recall reading about an antenna designed using a GA. The result worked great, the design however was weird and in a sense ugly. The engineers did not have a full understanding of how it worked (i.e. Typical antenna design involves solving a set of equations for…

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