Thursday, 8 July 2010

James Martin - The Meaning of the 21st Century I

The Awesome Meaning of this Century

The Skill/Wisdom gap is a serious problem. We have lost our ability to put things together. We have got deeper and narrower to an extent that we can no longer link ideas in an interdisciplinary way and this limits our reasoning and our "wisdom". It leads to isolated decision making that will always create unforseen consequences, at a time when we can least afford it.

The news today had an example which was the relationship between obesity and diet and exercise. The new research suggests that first you tackle diet and eating as if you focus on increasing acticvity and exercise you have limited success because once you have the extra pounds you are less keen to be active. This is when the foolish Secretary of State for Health says that diet should not be governed centrally but that people should take their own responsibility regardless of evidence showing legislation of the food industry in France and Denmark has reduced obesity. He also forgets the experiences of two world wars and particularly of rationing that improved the diet of millions of people, who had been almost starving before-hand.

The Perfect Storm

This chapter is focussed on his ideas about the need for non-centralised managements and the weaknesses of having a centralised government that uses a command-and-control structure which cannot plan for every eventuality. This does not allow for local corrections to problems that arise. The examples he takes come from the Nobel Prize winner Hayek. These have been confirmed recently by the result of complex systems analysis.

This seems to me analogous to the gaze heuristic. We do not calculate the trajectory of a ball, we look to guide it into our hands by minor corrections that bring us to the final solution. This means a much more pragamatic and localised structure to problem solving. So government only sets the strategic goals - the actual implementation is carried out globally.

There are also practical links with the problems we face in high throughput biology. We are losing the specialised "local" biological knowledge that we used to have in small-scale laboratory experiments, where people were very familiar with the genes they were studying and so there was lots of know-how that did not enter the literature. This was particularly important in the case of genome annotations and so the result was the creation of the DAS annotation system. Which never seemed to make the headway that was needed. Good idea but just too complicated to be used - this is a limitation of the semantic web and of creating perfect database schema. They manage knowledge perfectly but exclude the user and the requirements of the specifications change too often. We also need decentralised and more modular project managment/coding.

No comments: