I recently discovered one of Grace Hopper’s quotes:
Life was simple before World War II. After that, we had systems.
This reminds me of the origins of operations research in military planning in World War II. Coincidence? I think not. Operations research became a formal discipline at the same time it was desperately needed for real problems.
To be fair, systems go way back beyond World War II — I immediately thought of Ancient Rome’s bureaucracy and engineered systems of aqueducts and roads. But I appreciate what Grace Hopper implied: we continue to live in a world with increasingly complex systems that could benefit from the application of operations research.
Along the same lines, about a decade ago someone told me that the world is run on eighth grade math. I’m sure that the level of math used in many operations is embarrassing, but the financial crisis brought to light how complicated the financial system is. Likewise, other industries have followed a similar pattern of increasing complexity (and lack of transparency, but that’s a topic for another time). Knowledge of systems and math (beyond eighth grade math) is a handy tool for life.
Please share interesting stories and anecdotes about systems and your favorite use of eighth grade math.
- in defense of model complexity
- optimization and unhappy truckers
- Grace Hopper was on David Letterman