My alternative busines model

Niall Douglas s_fsfeurope at
Thu Dec 5 21:54:01 UTC 2002

On 5 Dec 2002 at 11:07, Alfred M. Szmidt wrote:

>    No, your logic is broken. A cooking recipe like all other
>    information is useless without a human to interpret it. Software is
>    different - it is directly useful with no human involvement
>    whatsoever. Therefore software != information but software ~ a
>    pump.
> Your logic is actually broken.  A cooking recipe is useless without
> tools.  You can't make lassange without a oven can you? The computer
> is the oven, the recipe is the software, and the user is either the
> cook (programmer) or the person who eats the lasange (user).

No, that analogy doesn't represent the relationship between 
information, software and algorithms.

> I have yet to see software that does not require human involvement
> whatsoever.  Someone has to set it up before anyone can use it.

The human involvement isn't the key factor here. It's about "what is 
it", not about what you do with it.

>    No, they're three different things. I think Bertrand Russell did
>    some good work on the differences, and I vaguely remember the
>    mathematician Wierner (sp?) did so as well.
>    Basically, literature is information. Software is a tool. Math is
>    theory or concept. Literature != software != maths.
> No, the tool is the computer.  Software is the information needed to
> be able to use the computer.  You can't touch math, literature or
> software, they all are expressions of some kind of an idea be it a
> theorm, a poem or a program that does something fun.

You're wrong I'm afraid, though I will admit the world of philosophy 
doesn't completely agree with me either. I wish I could quote the 
relevent pages from the appropriate books, but those books are in 
Ireland and I'm in Spain so I'll try my best from memory.

You'll need to go back to Plato and the question "Is a horse always a 
horse?". The question "what *is* something" is key to the distinction 
between theory, practice and information. Basically, it can be proven 
that all mathematics (and thus algorithms) are equally valid whether 
humans exist or not ie; they are an eternal truth independent of 
existence ie; if the universe did not exist, 1 + 1 still equals 2 (I 
know it doesn't if you don't use axioms derived from Euclidean 
geometry, but I'm talking mainstream math here).

Now the difference between maths and information has been known since 
Greek times. The difference between implementation and theory & 
information is much more recent - post-second world war I think. One 
of the founding fathers of the mathematical basis for all computing 
is this fellow Wiener or however you spell it - he's even more 
important than Turing.

Basically, he showed that pure maths cannot equal implementation ie; 
maths is useless in practical terms without a human to interpret it. 
Formal specification is a near-maths method of instructing a 
computer, but it's still not pure maths. In fact, as far as anyone 
can prove, there is no way of feeding pure maths to a computer and 
have it do something useful without *contextualising* the algorithms 
ie; say what it applies to, what its output is etc.

This is the fundamental difference between theory and implementation. 
I can say take this set of numbers, multiply them by two and stick 
them over there but while eternally truthful and valid, it's useless.

It's also why software is not information. Information is purely 
data. Generally this becomes refined because humans exclude that 
information we don't wish to bother with. So therefore whether we 
include if the sky is blue or not in every email we write depends on 
whether we consider it relevent.

Information, because of its wide extant and subjective nature, is 
completely useless without an observer. You could even say all data 
in a computer is mostly useless except for the fact we humans 
consider it valuable. To a computer program, it processes information 
which may consist of pure information, other software or mathematical 
formulae. But it does not know the intrinsic *value* of the 
information past those three basic groupings.

Hence why software != algorithms != information. I'm sorry if I've 
mangled the explanation past anyone understanding it. Also know that 
this theory, while 50 years old isn't entirely universally accepted 
so in some respects, it is opinion (though it makes sense to me). If 
you want to know more, look for works by Norbert Wiener (it has 
"cybernetic" in its title) and Bertrand Russell (it's some paper of 
his on the theory of logic, and somewhere inside he differentiates 
between the three items above). Lastly, my apologies for being too 
lazy to go chase up copies of the above documents on the net, but TBH 
I have better things to do that waste hours proving what I already 


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