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Sunday, 13 September 2020

Sunday Rest: algorithm. Word Not To Say With A Sneer Today.

 The schools have mostly been shut here in Britain since March (though they've opened, now). As a consequence of this, public exams didn't take place.

This meant that some other method had to be used to assess the children's abilities.

There were several sensible ways of doing this, but what was decided upon was to use data from various sources to get a likely result. This led to some children getting lower grades than they expected or wanted or needed or deserved, and this in turn led to a huge outcry and a hasty retraction. 

In the end teacher's assessments were used to award grades. This very conveniently showed that this year's children are much much cleverer than any other year's have ever been.


The way grades were originally calculated was by an algorithm, and such was the outrage at the results that now you hardly hear the word algorithm being spoken without a sneer. It's as if an algorithm were some kind of evil spell. Actually, I think lots of people do think an algorithm is an evil spell. But it's not.

An algorithm is a set of mathematical rules designed to be applied to data. For example, if you wanted to know how many feet the children in all the classes of a school have you might say: take the number of children in each class and multiply by two.

It's not perfect, but it'll generally give you more or less the right answer.

If you said take the number of children in each class and multiply by a hundred then it won't give you anything like the right answer. But it's not because algorithms don't work, it's because that one is rubbish.

Yes, thank you, I feel better, now.

Please do feel free to sneer at the sneerers.

Sunday Rest: algorithm. Word Not To Say With A Sneer. This word used to be algorism, but it got changed to algorithm because, well, arithmetic has got a th in it. The word algorithm started off as al-Khwarizmi, who was the scholar who introduced the Hindu system of numbers to the Muslim world, which system later came to the West and is the one we use now.

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