No, for a change: its time to revive…
What would happen if you were able to put algorithms into your software?
Some programmers think of them as little more than computer programs. But they’re different from other software, just as they’re different from physical substances in the way we take their properties into consideration. They have the same properties that we measure things by—it’s just we take them in turn.
A typical algorithm is a small piece of hardware that handles a job with great accuracy from start to finish. That’s what makes them easy to program. If you want to automate some portion of what you do, you can write the machine that performs one task; the only thing you have to ask it to do is to run the task at a specific rate—just by repeating the instructions over and over again. That lets you get an amazing increase in performance, because your machine is doing the job faster than you can possibly guess, and by getting the job done faster, it becomes smarter. You don’t have to worry the machine is stupid—it’s just doing the job faster than anyone else could possibly guess and it can be more efficient than you could possibly hope to be.
That’s why if we wanted to improve the human brain, we could’t just create software and call it a day. We had to think about the entire human brain, and we had to figure out how the brain’s behavior worked. And that’s what we do in software engineering. As hard as it may be to believe, some of the things we do in software engineering really do improve the human brain.
For instance—the one that’s probably most impressive, by a long shot—we’re actually making a significant contribution to improving the effectiveness of the brain for performing tasks that are outside its normal range of behavior. For this we need a lot of hardware.
So you can’t just use an algorithm. You need to figure out how to put algorithms into the hardware. Or, more specifically, you need to make that decision for each task one at a time. That’s where the difference emerges between software and hardware and sets it apart—one thing’s not enough because the other depends on the results of the task you want to do.
To make this more clear, here’s a hypothetical computer program that can take 10 different measurements and tell you which is greatest—how good it is in the given task. For every measurement, it’s supposed to calculate which measurement has the highest average.
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