Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Refining Algorithms and Systems, Help Systems, Driverless Cars and Obamacare

I had occasion yesterday to call the Verizon help line for assistance on installing a new router.  It has been 2 or more years since I've made a similar call, so I was struck by the significant improvement in their system.  I think there were at least 2 aspects:
  • improving the logic of the automated decision tree.  I got to the applicable problem-solver much faster, and when there it was quite logical.
  • linking the automated phone system with databases.  It wasn't new that the system knew my phone number.  It was new that it confirmed my identity.  It was new that it knew that they had just shipped a new router, so logically my call would most likely relate to that.
What's nice about software is that improvements, once made, tend to last.  If you fix a problem or made an enhancement, it's done forever, or at least for as long as the organization behind the system lasts. The critical factor is the organization is working to improve the system, as opposed to letting it survive on inertia.  But this ratchet effect for improving algorithms means that Google's driverless car can handle increasingly unusual traffic situations.  It also means that Obamacare's website can continue to improve. 

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