That bring us to the conclusions of this piece. First, precision in language. Amongst the early 20th Century Cambridge philosophers were German speakers and they adopted an approach from France and England in which mathematics and language were the principle components of philosophy. In searching for, in broad terms, the meaning of life, they followed a path that suggested that precision was necessary if any certainty was to be possible.
And so mathematics, ironically using variables to indicate precision and accuracy in expression became regarded as the bedrock of intellectual development.
Today, as we drive computerisation ever more deeply into the workings of our corporate machines, we fail differentiate between fuzzy language and fuzzy logic.
Fuzzy logic is a good thing: it means to take imprecise data and analyse it as if it were many different forms of precise data. But the process by which it does that cannot be fuzzy. And the language, be it code or plain language, that defines the functions and the process cannot be fuzzy, they cannot be vague.
So, imprecise source data: great, feed me.
Imprecise output data: kill me now.
Context, inflection, the order of words.. all of this is imprecise source data. It’s what criminals have long used to bemuse simple name checking systems to prevent them travelling. How computer systems deal with it is a mark of intelligence not of the machine but of those who, as the N versus NP analysis showed are a significant part of the reason that computers can’t do what many people say they can do.
I have an example: airlines don’t allow bookings to include punctuation in names. This has been the case since the early 1980s so no airline should be surprised by it. But it is usual for instructions to say ″enter your name exactly as it is shown on your passport.″ Then, if you are like me, the system fails validation. The programmer didn’t think through that his on-screen instructions were contrary to his validation. Worse, credit cards DO require the punctuation but the same airline applied the same validation to the payment form i.e. no punctuation. So the card payment passed validation on the airline’s site but failed validation for card processing.
As we place more and more obligations onto machines, we think we don’t need to visit The place of unthought thoughts.
But we do. It’s more important than ever.