interactivity and the inevitable unpredictability

isoquant

These are a family of isoquant curves.

Before you switch off, please bear with me and my nerdy microeconomics for just a second. An isoquant is a graph of all possible combinations of inputs that result in the production of a given level of output. In other words, it is a production function. Here, the combination of machines and labor produces different levels of output – 100, 120 and 140 units as shown. This significance and application of this concept is exactly what is delved into in Software Studies. The graph, as what I learn in Microeconomics, is simply a function, a mapping – “a function proper is propaedeutic, telling how the thing should behave, giving the theory but not concerning itself with how it is to be implemented.” (104)

While reading Software Studies, my knowledge of isoquant curves kept popping up prominently in my mind. It helped me conceptualize the ideas well, which is why I’m sharing here today. As Derek Robinson explains, functions can be one-to-one, where a single input value is associated with a single output value. On the other hand, they can be many-to-one, where two or more inputs arrive at the same output (106). These isoquants, or production functions, are unique even if they are monotonic transformations of one another, as they represent the use of different technologies. Firms use this to maximize profits, and similarly, computer scientists use this to program and develop new softwares.

It depends on the number of inputs involved in the algorithm, but it forms the basis for most computation systems. Although this may seem very mechanical and impersonal (most of the processes described in this book seemed that way to me, to be honest), some chapters, such as Interaction, somewhat changed that. Liveness is an important theme in “interactive computation” (proposed by Wegner and Goldin), a theme that promotes more human-computer symbiosis than a mere machine. An aim of this is to enable computing machines to “processes of thinking that must go on in ‘real time'” (Licklider 146).

In this, not everything can be pre-planned or precomputed. Instead, it is aimed at a feeling that there are “infinite possibilities to explore”, including unpredictable input. As humans, how often are we able to respond well to unforeseen and unpredicted “inputs” or situations?  Even for computation models, they often have to be incomplete in order to utilize or express the autonomous and external meanings. It is almost antonymous with algorithms, which are guided by a set of instructions and are the “description of the method by which a task is to be accomplished” (15).

Lista opere:Layout 1
(Alison Measly, programmer, who is interested in the relationship between art and unpredictable, uncontrollable processes)

The systematic and factual models of microeconomics are truly algorithmic – you put in inputs x1 and x2, combine it with the isocost line (the combinations of input that cost the same total amount) and there you have it, the optimal production point at any given level of output. How applicable are these models to production in real life? There are almost always elements of unpredictability, and a level of incompleteness is required to account for these unforeseen aspects.

– Rachel Tio

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~ by rachel.tio on April 5, 2015.

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