Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Leave a copy here

I have written several blog posts about the book The Most Human Human by Brian Christian.  He participated in the Loebner contest, set up in a Turing test where a computer and a person communicate with the judges to see if they can tell who is a human and who is a machine.  The same author has written a new book "Algorithms to Live By".  It is a consideration of some principles of computer design and architecture that seem to have some relevance to people's lives outside of computing.

An algorithm is a recipe, a particular way of carrying out a set of instructions. Maybe you learned to do multiplication using a pattern that looks like this:


X  9

If so, you know and use an algorithm for multiplication. Algorithms are sort of like a learned procedure.  We hear about algorithms in all sorts of places, such as the statement at the bottom of Google News, which says

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.

I think we are all getting more used to computers doing things, even to the point of driving a car with humans inside as passengers.  Maybe you have heard of the iOT, the internet of things, where your computer, your refrigerator, maybe your furnace and other machines and objects are electronically sensitive, "smart", and able to communicate with each other.  They will have input from each other and the environment around them.  They will no doubt be governed by algorithms that may need tweaking by owners.  Preferences and procedures will need to be modified to suit individual tastes.

One of his chapters is about caches ('cash es), storages.  In computers, some files are needed very often and many, more rarely.  In deciding on the rules for building and maintaining a cache, a handy one has been LRU (least recently used).  That translates into simply keeping what is needed often close by.  It also translates into not re-filling folders and papers that are often needed but leaving them out on the desk where they are handy.

Similarly, many computer systems and websites that have high levels of use have mirror or copied sites scattered around.  That way, a file that is called for is close by, in a mirror site and doesn't have to be transmitted long distances to fill the request. This copy business might get to be a big deal some day.  If your kids are scattered around the country, make  copies of yourself so you are close to each of them.

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