Big Data and Artificial Intelligence from the Cynic

Ambrose Bierce wrote the Devil's Dictionary in 1910, delighting and edifying cynics everywhere. Stan Kelly-Bootle wrote a new version for the world of computing called the Devil's DP Dictionary in 1981, and a later edition in 1995 called the Computer ContraDictionary. These are timeless works, providing valuable insight and inspiration for cynics to this day. But there are modern computing terms that came into use after these geniuses had passed onto their reward. It's time for at least a first draft of a Computer Cynic's Dictionary for the 21st Century.

Ambrose Bierce

Mr. Bierce started publishing definitions many years before the first book appeared. Here is the start of a column from 1881:

You can see that from the very start, Mr. Bierce had the ability to get at the heart of things using few words.

Stan Kelly-Bootle

Ambrose Bierce was clearly a tough act to follow, but the new computer technology was such rich soil that Mr. Kelly-Bootle felt that an attempt had to be made. And a heroic attempt it was, providing insight and edification all these years later. The following couple of simple definitions get right to the point:

In other definitions, he gets a bit more cutting:

Cynicism in the 21st Century

Many new terms have entered the world of computing since Mr. Kelly-Bootle last graced us with his wisdom. Reasonable people may ask, "is cynicism dead?" "Will such juicy targets remain unskewered?"

I have searched high and (especially) low, and found nothing but piles of dry computer-babble, peppered with ignorance and misinformation. I have yet to find a good source of penetrating definitions for any the terms being thrown wildly about in today's discourse. I feel I have no choice but to offer some of my own definitions, sad exemplars of the type though they be, in hope of challenging those with the true, deep knowledge of a Bierce or Bootle to counter with their own superior definitions.

Here is the first installment. Should I somehow avoid assassination, more will follow in future posts.

Big Data

A subject of which no self-respecting executive may claim ignorance; an expensive, ever-growing collection of hardware and software managed by people who spout a dizzying array of acronyms with confidence and certainty, with mounting expenses and benefits that are just about to be realized.

A collection of data, presumed to be large but normally fitting in a backpack with room to spare, which is said to contain untold riches if only they can be found and unlocked with mysterious keys like Hadoop.

An approach to analyzing incredibly huuuuge collections of data that has been recently invented, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to outdated technologies such as data warehousing and business intelligence, and sharing none of their drawbacks.

Artificial Intelligence

A kind of intelligence, sometimes implemented by computers, which would be decisively rejected by all right-thinking people if it were food. It is the opposite of organic, free-range, unprocessed intelligence - it is chock-full of GMO's, fructose and artificial ingredients of many kinds.

The growing crisis of insufficient intelligence is being addressed by some leading scientists, who are leading the way in the creation of artificial intelligence to fill in the gaps left by inadequate supplies of naturally-occurring intelligence. Like the green revolution in agriculture, many hope that this emerging "grey revolution" will put a stop to the persistent intelligence shortages that make so many miserable. While some elites sneer that artificial, non-organic intelligence is deeply harmful, most of the deprived are glad to be served intelligence of any kind, however artificial it may be, rather than their current meager diets containing precious little intelligence of any kind.

A purposely vague term, referring to an ever-growing set of tools and techniques, that are said to do stuff that people usually do, only better. AI programs have advanced from early victories in playing checkers to wins against chess masters. They have finally achieved the pinnacle of human intelligence, winning the game show Jeopardy. After decades of marching from success to success, today's leaders of Artificial Intelligence anticipate that practical applications of the technology are certain to emerge. If not, they threaten to further inflate the definition of Artificial Intelligence to encompass normal computer programs written by ordinary human beings, at which point success will be theirs -- since a computer program is, without doubt, artificial.


I expect to release more definitions in the course of this year.