Chapter 11: A Work-Horse and its Tools
When my friends and I discuss the technological choices that humans make, we often call it “Yahoo Computing” between each other. However, I am careful never to use that word in front of Ngnghm (whose name I pronounce “Ann”) by fear that she would readily view us as Yahoos indeed, as we all yearn to qualify as Houyhnhnms in her eyes (which we pronounce “Hunams”). I have never heard Ann call any human “Yahoo”, either, not even when we describe the most irrational human behaviors; but I strongly suspect that it might be out of politeness, or to avoid triggering an adverse reaction if she told to our face how she really feels about humans.
One day we were discussing how a lot of extremely costly mistakes, some of them deadly, were made in human computing. Ann was particularly interested in these failures. She explained that failure patterns are often a great way to understand underlying structures that are not otherwise directly observable. What patterns were there in those failures? What do they teach us about how humans make decisions? She was interested as an anthropologist. I was more interested as a practitioner: if we can identify some defect in the way humans tend to make some decisions about computing, some kind of myopia, then can we devise systematic ways to correct them? Did Houyhnhnms have similar failings, and how did they address them?