Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dumbing Down When We Should Smarten Up

A recent post in The Guardian is about Why our jobs are getting worse. Briefly the claim is made that even "managerial" jobs are being made utterly routine and as free of discretionary input as possible.

Meanwhile lots more people achieve more and higher qualifications, and the tools at our disposal for making decisions improve on a daily basis.

Google is one toy that a lot of people have yet to exploit to its fullest. And then there's Wolfram-Alpha (affectionately known as W|A). It must represent another huge trend, and a need for people who know how to reduce business and engineering problems so that they are digestible by tools with less than human language skills.

As a simple example, suppose I had a ten-year-old, 65-pound granddaughter with a height of four feet, eleven inches? What would her ultimate height be?

Well, of course, almost any height might be possible. However, in all probability her adult height would be less than about 5'9". This is the graph that W|A provides as part of its response for that data.

If you want details about how to do this see http://www.wolframalpha.com. My real point is that it's not just a calculator, or just a spreadsheet. When will employers appreciate the value and importance of engaging their employees? They're already capable of amazing things. With stuff like this imagine what would be possible.

PS: Interestingly, although W|A's development seems to have been guided largely by mathematicians when I attempted to respond to a question involving Diophantine equations from aardvark.com a few weeks ago I found that W|A didn't recognise this term. They've promised to add it.
PPS: Quite a few student questions that appear on aardvark could be answered using W|A. It's time teachers at all levels started mentioning it to students. Their services will be a lot more valuable with this knowledge and related skill.

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