Life lessons from 1960s Computer Science

Logic. It’s simple. Follow a series of predetermined steps and you’ll arrive at a final outcome that is most definitely correct.

What could go wrong? Unless, of course, your starting point is not what you thought it was. Then you’re really in a mess.

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The acronym GIGO was coined back in the early days of the computer revolution; Garbage In, Garbage Out. No matter how good your algorithm, if you start with the wrong information you’ll end up with the wrong answer.

How often do we accept nonsensical answers because, “it’s what the computer says.” Perhaps you’ve even heard stories of people driving their cars into a river because, “the SatNav told me to go this way!” A basic error in the map results in people blindly trusting the directions they’re given, in spite of the personal risks.

In simple cases it can be easy to see the result we’ve been given is not in the right ball-park. In complex cases it may be impossible to know. How can the weather-forecasters know that a new model’s predictions is accurate? How can politicians trust predictions made on the basis of “big data”?

The GIGO principle is not restricted to processing digital information; it applies to many areas of your life. Here are a few other common phrases that encapsulate similar sentiments:

  • Buy the best, buy once. Use of poor quality components in manufacturing will result in a lower quality finished product. Whilst it may cost less to buy, the final product is likely to be less robust and you may need to replace it sooner, making it more costly in the longer term.
  • What goes around, comes around. How do people treat you? The way you treat others will influence how they treat you. If you’re kind they’re will be more inclined to be kind to you. If you’re not….
  • You are what you eat. Struggling with weight or health issues? The typical Western diet is comprised of highly processed fake-foods. Nature’s God-given goodness is poisoned, refined and modified until there’s little of value left in it. We’re feeding on lifeless food.

What are you feeding your body and your relationships? Is it time to change your inputs to get a better output?

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