Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Spread of Fuzz

Fuzzy logic had its beginnings circa 1965, the invention of Lotfi A. Zadeh. I remember it well because a most memorable colleague of mine, Howard Gadberry at Midwest Research Institute, introduced it to me. Howard, who was my elder by two decades or more, and very impressive, yet had a child’s delight in the new. He used to appear in the door of my office, stare at me at length, and when he had my attention begin: “What do you know about sharpness?” Then—after the second or third such event I knew what was coming next—I knew that I would now hear things about “sharpness” I couldn’t have predicted in a hundred years. So here was Howard: “Ever hear about fuzzy logic?”

In a nutshell fuzzy logic is based on probabilities, so in contrast to standard logic which produces True or False—and nothing else—fuzzy logic gives you Maybe and can also quantify it. That’s another way saying that this Whatever is neither this nor that. Everything blends.

Monique is leading a project at present which gives her team, and I’m a member, an opportunity to look at U.S. economic sectors once more in revealing detail. And in conversation after conversation, the same theme keeps emerging: the spread of the fuzz. Trying its absolute damndest to keep the more and more rapidly morphing institutions coherent, at least for statistical reporting purposes, the Bureau of the Census still valiantly clings to concepts like Retail, Wholesale, Manufacturing, and Services, but in a kind of slow-motion shapeshift, our institutions will not, repeat not, hold their forms.

Now statistics, of course, are the tool by means of which we resolve the images of collective reality. Numbers are the photons that bring the information. If outer physical reality were behaving as the economy does, we would have begun to panic quite a while ago. That dog is morphing into something else. But what is it. No sooner do we say “fire hydrant” than it has shifted shape again and now looks—believe it or not—like a running bush.

It’s everywhere. The phenomenon of fuzzing is most easily noted by seeing journalism morphing into entertainment-propaganda-advertisements-for-myself-gossip-as-an-industry. But lordy, lord. When you see wholesale melting into communications, and manufacturing exploding into a hive of bees, why then you wonder. But we are trying our best to help Monique put the pieces together again. After all, when the subject is pharmaceuticals, people do tend to think, reading our compilations, that we are talking about drugs, not some new forms of semi-monopolistic distribution.

1 comment:

  1. Delightful summary of the strange trends we've been uncovering lately. We live in interesting times...