I was at a seminar last week where one of the presenters was covering the subject of diversity. She didn’t take the usual angle of reducing everything to a question of either gender or race but generally lifted the whole topic to a much higher and all inclusive level. Just when I was beginning to feel comfortable with her thought provoking approach she flashed up on the giant screen an extremely complex looking algorithm.
Just in case there might be a reader that does not exactly know what an algorithm is, then I can tell you that it is not the name of a famous American politician’s personal dance band but a mathematical equation that describes the instructions to perform a particular function (or something like that)!
The speaker was delivering her important message to an audience largely made up of male chemists and engineers and I think her point went down very well judging by the reaction. Diversity is not solely about a question of exclusion but also a lack of recognition that within any specific gender, race, age, or group of people, there is any number of diversities that we need to recognize.
It was then it got me wondering how much of what we think or do can be expressed in terms of algorithms? Can, for example, a complex business decision (that may include subjective issues) be seriously reduced to a single algorithm? Could deciding on a life partner be better made on the basis of an algorithm rather than sexual drive and instinct? And how long, I wonder, will it be before someone writes an auto-generating algorithm applet for the I-phone?
A few years back I was running the operations of a software company where the daily language was of algorithms and ‘low level programming’ and to be honest when you really get to grips with what is going on, it’s not that complex. I don’t mean that writing complex algorithms is easy, far from it, but when they are explained by an eloquent software engineer or mathematician they seem very much more accessible.
It never ceases to amaze me how many of us feel comforted by a scientific explanation. Somehow science makes things true. And yet too often it is seemingly well grounded explanations, given to us from people that sound like they know better, that lead us in completely the wrong direction.
At the end of the day I believe that it is not so much what is said that matters in life but what happens as a result of it. And so this week I hope that a whole bunch of people will be starting to explore what diversity means to them and how they will be living it at home and in their working environments, rather than debating if the algorithm could ever be correct or is flawed.
Have a nice week