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
July 18th, 2015 at 2:27 pm
The finance industry is less about complex systems than about imaginary ones. For years prior to the meltdown, Wall Street was scooping up physicists (see, for instance, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/science/10quant.html?pagewanted=all). At one point, I think I read that there were more jobs for newly hatched particle physicists on the Street than in academe. Why? The had some facility with the Ito Calculus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%C5%8D_calculus).
So they took my retirement portfolio and entrusted it to people who try to measure tachyons and bosons, and invented “dark matter” rather than admit that they don’t understand gravity after all. What could go wrong with that?
July 21st, 2015 at 11:38 am
[…] Punk Rock Operations Research: Life was simple before World War II. After that, we had systems […]