Purpose Based Computing

John Dir

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Accomplishing tasks efficiently requires a series of smaller steps that are built upon the understanding of tools and information required to complete each stage of the process. Once the entire process involved with reaching a goal is absorbed, each repetition of the job becomes less time consuming. Based on one’s familiarity with a project, an experienced person can accomplish much more in less time than a person who is learning the task for the first time. These principles are seen in every aspect of work and leisure activities associated with computer based tasks. The idea of Purpose Based Computing is founded on this easily understandable premise.

Purpose Based Computing is founded on the concept that once a task has been defined by a human operator, the sequence of steps needed to accomplish the desired results can be reviewed to reveal repetitive, mechanical procedures that can be transferred from slower human control, to the high speed efficiency of automation. Computers can be taught to understand and accomplish much more of the mechanical process than most operations currently examine. One primary reason for this oversight has been the perspective that people themselves take for granted as part of their own learning process. We learn how to accomplish things by repeating steps taught to us until we are comfortable with the flow of the routines we are assigned. When we have a process locked into our memory, few of us consciously look for ways to condense the effort needed to complete the same task each time we are confronted with performing the function again.

Occasionally, we are trained to do something related to our work that contains a lot of “personal" touches and procedures thrown in by the person who trains us. As we look at the function, we begin to question why some things must be performed exactly the way we are shown, and suddenly realize there might be a more efficient alternative to accomplish the same purpose. In professional training, it is often said that there is no such thing as a stupid question. It is through questioning that we learn to draw correct conclusions, and begin to allow our own talents a chance to shine. It is this variance in human nature that allows us to distinguish ourselves from one another, and find that one person is better at performing some tasks than others. Individual human creativity is the single most important factor that leads to all progress.

As complex systems and functions proliferate within an organization, there comes a point in time when nearly everyone will encounter a situation that causes them to wonder how current procedures were established. To our surprise, as we move from one job to the next, we find that even if the job titles are the same, no two companies accomplish tasks exactly the same way. Variations inevitably occur that make each function within a company unique. As systems change, people are required to learn new methods and adapt to the differences quickly. In this atmosphere, it might seem difficult to find a mechanical based methodology that is equally as flexible as human elements, which can be quickly incorporated into keeping procedures tuned to maximize overall efficiency of operation, while remaining focused on exploiting the strengths of both human creativity, and mechanical repetitive operations.

The concepts behind Purpose Based Computing provide a shift in historical perspective that allows people to focus their creativity, while consciously moving away from self imposed repetitive mechanical operations. To accomplish the most appealing balance between people and computers, it is necessary to take additional steps not previously available. In the past, computer technology has focused on standards that forced people to learn how to use the machines, with little flexibility in applying the basic principles of functionality, leading to an overly mechanical process that leaves some people outside the desired capability. This one-sided approach of teaching people how to use computers leaves half the equation virtually unexploited. There are many different types of software on the market that are aimed at ease of use, with the ability to perform complex manipulations of information and procedures. Training software allows people to walk through scenarios to become comfortable with how to accomplish the desired task. Training courses are available in schools and professional organizations to teach people how to use the latest innovations. In this ever more complex sea of computers and software, the greatest surge is to keep people pursuing change and innovation, while at the same time, ignoring the potential of teaching machines themselves how to understand people.

In the Purpose Based Computing approach, the single most important new element introduced by the methodology is a systemic shift toward providing a simple mechanism to make computers more flexible, adaptable, and able to move closer to applying the individual creativity of humans who use them. In effect, we provide an effective new way to begin teaching the machines how to implement the desires of the people using them, and to absorb the repetitive mechanical functions they are designed handle. It is possible for people to actually show the computer how to maximize the accomplishment of the human based “purpose" associated with performing a function.

By combining a number of simple steps, eliminating repetitive human searching, recognition, and physical actions better performed by machines, the improvement in overall efficiency is accelerated dramatically in a very short period of time. One simple demonstration of this idea is file management. For people who use a word processing program extensively, one of the biggest problems to arise quickly is keeping track of documents. Each time a document is created, it must be saved on the computer using a file name and a path where the document will be stored. Under normal use, it becomes a human task to remember what the document was called, where it resides on the system, and how to retrieve it when it is needed again. Each time a person wishes to interact with that document, they must first find and start the word processing program, look up the document in its path on the system, select the document, and begin working with it. In effect, the person becomes responsible for knowing what they want, where it is, and how to retrieve it. From a purpose based approach, two out of these three human based responsibilities are an unnecessary mechanical function that could be better left for machines to perform. Using the right approach, once a document has been placed on a machine, people should only have to know what they want, leaving the machine to solve the problem of where it is, and how to retrieve it. Moreover, the machine should also be able to understand what program interacts with the document, and be able to start that program with the document opened automatically. If machines are properly taught, a six step human process can now be reduced to a single human step, with the other five elements automated instantly. This new approach allows machines and humans to remain in control of what each does best, creating a 500% improvement in human efficiency.

Starting with this simple illustration, when the same kind of improvement ratio is spread across a range of computer based tasks it is easy to see how massive the overall impact of this methodology can potentially become in a very short period of implementation. Using the Purpose Based Computing approach is a simple combination of technique and software application, without the need for prolonged training to start realizing the benefits of the program. Since the process rapidly builds the perception that using computers becomes easier from the human point of view, resistance to change is not as great a factor as with lots of other software and service packages.

Director of Software Concepts
BHO Technologists - LittleTek Center
Teaching computers to work with people.
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