I generally have faith in the innate smarts of my fellow human beings. And so I tend to subscribe to the view that software can make things better – from recording accounting transactions more accurately all the way through to bringing people closer together. And that people are not slow to adopt a new technology if it makes their lives easier, or restores a childlike wonder to their worlds. I don’t believe in “change management”: if you set out on a software project in the full knowledge that you are going to need a lot of change management then you are setting yourself up to fail (*).
[A Genetic Algorithm] may have a tendency to converge towards local optima or even arbitrary points rather than the global optimum of the problem. This means that it does not “know how” to sacrifice short-term fitness to gain longer-term fitness. The likelihood of this occurring depends on the shape of the fitness landscape: certain problems may provide an easy ascent towards a global optimum, others may make it easier for the function to find the local optima. This problem may be alleviated by using a different fitness function, increasing the rate of mutation, or by using selection techniques that maintain a diverse population of solutions, although the No Free Lunch theorem proves that there is no general solution to this problem.
Here is Guns, Germs and Steel on QWERTY keyboards – a great example of a suboptimal technology that only the churlish would seriously challenge these days.
Unbelievable as it may now sound, [the QWERTY keyboard] was designed in 1873 as a feat of anti-engineering. It employs a whole series of perverse tricks designed to force typists to type as slowly as possible, such as scattering the commonest letters over all the keyboard rows and concentrating them on the left side (where right-handed people have to use their weaker hand). The reason behind all of those seemingly counterproductive features is that the typewriters of 1873 jammed if adjacent keys were struck in quick succession, so that manufacturers had to slow down typists. When improvements in typerwriters eliminated the problem of jamming, trials in 1932 with an efficiently laid-out keyboard showed that it would let us double our typing speed and reduce our typing effort by 95 percent. But QWERTY keyboards were solidly entrenched by then.
What a great example of a local maximum in technology adoption.
(*) If this sounds naive my approach is a bit different. You need to do all your change management before you start your project. Not when you are about to implement it.