Bill Cunningham (930414.1200)
In reply to numerous, starting with Tom Bourbon (930409.1531)
The problem we are tackling (notice I didn't say solving) is the latest
curse of the information age. It is an organizational problem, where decision
authority(ies) can no longer make decisions/provide direction based on their
personal observation. I'm deliberately avoiding the DME description, so as
to not sink into the definitional swamp. I'll just use DA to keep things
separate. Anyway, our hero (the DA) must rely on reports from subordinates,
machines, total outsiders to develop a world view sufficient to run his
business. Organizationally, this has been true for some time. However,
recent technology permits us to generate, store and transfer more data
than it is possible to use. The current cliche is "drowning in data and
starving for information." And when faced with a shortage of information
(as defined by the DA), our hero requests more--which is delivered as
more data and the problem gets worth. I can cite some horror stories,
but 1 analyst trying to wrestle with 6000 disparate data bases may give
you some sense of the overload problem
Almost all of the work on this problem has originated with data base
designers or AI personnae, both of whom concentrate on machine solutions
and model the process in various flow charts originating with the data
sources and leading toward the user. The chart ends on the right with
a human-computer interface.
Our approach is to start with the point of decision, inside the DA's
skull, and work backward towards the data sources. There is a strong
economic motivation to do this, since there is a huge cost in generating,
storing, transporting and processing data of no or little value.
All of this requires some understanding of how the human functions. Enter
PCT. This problem, however, centers on the higher levels in the hierarchy.
Level 8 is the most obvious, since the conditional branching associated
with programming really involves choosing alternate courses of action.
Now, these choices must be made in the face of great uncertainty (and
potentially under pressure). While the externally supplied data is
voluminous (!#%&@$!), it is also incomplete, erroneous, outdated, etc.
So the poor DA has wade through a surplus of data, reject the irrelevant,
compress it to a level of abstraction that is meaningful in terms of the
decisions to be made, and then deal with the uncertainty.
Enter IT. Information is measured at the receiver. Any complex decision
can be decomposed into a binary tree. The function of information is to
remove/reduce the uncertainty at each branch of the tree. As an aside,
I'll throw out the observation that Occam's razor can be expressed as
the minimum number of Aristotelian propostions which must be true for
the assertion to be true. One could add that the the entire process
from data source to decision could be modeled as a noisy channe, but I
don't find that particularly helpful.
So PCT and IT provide two formidable tools for describing how an individual
DA must functions. One of the insights that emerges is that the DA
must control the data flow being presented. This might seem obvious to
this group, but I can assure you the idea is heresy to the purveyors of
fine data--who think they should control the filtering & compression and
the customer should be grateful for the great service provided. Customers
(notably the 4-star general far up my food chain) insist on controlling
the flow, but the purveyors cite the volume and say it can't be done.
PCT explains why it must be done, and begins to provide some clues on
The hierarchy of abstraction provides tremendous data compression, and
the higher order references provide the basis for filtering. There
remains issues of how to couple the data into the DA, and how much
processing can be relegated to machine/staff. Martin Taylor's
layered protocal (LP) theory, an outgrowth of PCT and IT provide a basis
for interaction. There will always be errors (and therefore uncertainty)
in the sharing of references, but the sharing of goals is what permits
collective action which is more effective than individual action.
This has been longer than intended. Bill Power's comments about using
IT as a tool for the higher levels seems pretty well on the mark, but
sooner rather than later. I think our view retains the individual DA
performing as an individual, but in an environment that includes the
surrounding organization. It also includes the staff members performing
as individuals. I would not classify any of this as especially new,
profound, or advancing science. I DO consider it an important application
of any and all tools that will help relieve a really nasty problem, with
the absolute intent to implement anything that provides 10% or more
improvement on the current situation.
Bill Powers--You were right to pull my leg about being antisocial. I should
have said OUR problem and MY controlled variable. Anyway, it keeps me
off the streets and out of the bars.