Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Perseus gets a hand

Forget Sisyphus and Oedipus, my personal favourite re-interpretation of a Greek myth would be Perseus, using his shield as a mirror to kill the snake-haired gorgon Medusa without letting her eyes turn him to stone. As a software guy I think this could be a founding myth - the use of a model (incorporating real-time position and motion data, but abstracting out the metamorphic gaze) to solve a particularly "hairy" problem.

Two problems with models. One, they are always approximations, simplifications. There's not much point to a model that is just as complicated as the reality it models. Two, the modeller gets to determine the purpose and value of every component. And sometimes these components are sentient, are in fact us.

But every public policy, and every law, incorporates some kind of model of the field in question. All laws and policies are potential instruments of ruin to real people. So accurate and timely feedback on their consequences is essential for humane and effective governance.

Now, from the 1st of January 2005, we have the Freedom of Information Act here in the UK. It will be evaded and abused, of course. But that is why I think it's a step in the right direction.

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