Dr. V.E.”Bill” Haloulakos is an AIAA National Distinguished Lecturer and a contributor to The Business Thinker. Aerospace Science Consultant/Professor; AIAA National Distinguished Lecturer and Legacy Member; Distinguished Engineering Educator Award Winner.
On June 21, 2013, the longest day of the year, an item in the evening news reported that Southwest Airlines’ computer crashed and as a result all their flight operations came to a halt. Not only their planes could not take off, they had big problems with landings as well. About two months prior to that, American Airlines experienced a similar computer system failure resulting in hundreds of flights being delayed or cancelled. As a matter of fact such system breakdowns and complete business stoppage happens to banks, supermarkets and all types of business establishments large and small.
It seems that we have come to accept such major business interruptions as “normal” in spite of the great inconveniences they cause. Perhaps this is because we may feel that we can not question the nerds that may be the causes of all this by having sold us all these digital “gizmos” that are supposedly helping us in and easing our daily lives. Who might these “nerds” be? Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Dell’s Larry Ellison, or who knows who else? Actually none of these are the true causes of the computerization and the digitization of our lives. Yes they developed and sold us the modern gadgets from the desktops to the laptops and the handhelds, along with the requisite operating, software that we seem to be so enamored with and we definitely feel unable or unwilling to do without.
The extent of our over-dependence on this Internet craze is perhaps described by the two following examples derived from a recent personal experience.
- I once gave all the pertinent information about a festival, i.e. place, time, driving directions and admission. Then the person asked me about their web page.
- To the same person I gave a bag full of freshly cut sweet basil leaves and simply told him to put them out in the sun to dry. He later told me that he went to the Internet and found instructions how to dry them in the microwave oven at two sequential time lengths and at different specified temperatures for each time period.
Admittedly, these examples do appear to be innocuous and trivial but they are so simple that one should not need the input from the Internet in order to handle them.
So, where does the responsibility reside for all this “madness” with our new gizmos? Clearly the individual persons using them share the bulk of the responsibility, but many would tell you that it’s those gurus that gave them to us. In that case we should go further back to the persons who gave us the tools that enabled the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to build the gadgets that we use. Those persons are the great mathematicians, the likes of Jon Von Neumann, who gave us the mathematical theories that made computers and the Internet possible.
We do not see doctors manually writing in their medical files anymore. Instead we see them hitting the keyboards on their laptops. These laptops, of course, come from Apple, Microsoft or others like them. But the one who, in the opinion of this author, is primarily responsible for the phenomenon of computers in medical practice is the great genius Richard Bellman. If you google his name be prepared to be reading for days…
Richard Bellman was a research mathematician working for the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California and later professor of Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC). Back in the fifties he introduced new concepts in mathematics like Dynamic Programming that no one understood then, but now mathematicians and especially engineers use it to solve many hitherto very difficult problems by decomposing them into a collection of simper sub-problems. This is a great achievement indeed. This is similar to the concept that a marathon race is composed to many individual steps.
I was fortunate to attend some of his lectures and I recall that I should not breathe too often for I might miss some if his words…
I recall him talking, in 1965, how medical doctors would use digital computers in their surgery rooms and as they would often encounter a new situation or problem then at the touch of a button they would be able to find out if some other medical practitioner may have encountered it or something similar and how they resolved it. A great help indeed… By the mid 1960s it was obvious that computers would enter the business world, but medicine? Oh, yes. Today computers are used in medical imaging, x-ray enhancement and all types of diagnoses. We should note that the first C in CAT SCAN stands for COMPUTERIZED.
It really took the genius of Richard Bellman to break that barrier and make all these things possible.
So, when you go to your doctor next time and see him or her click away on the laptop think and thank RICHARD BELLMAN.