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Preparing for Chaos: Patently Lame


The Boston Molasses DisasterIt seems tautological that it’s impossible to get ready for Chaos. Yet a recent patent application by researchers at IBM claims to do just that. In their System and method for optimizing the selection, verification, and deployment of expert resources in a time of chaos Robert Friedlander, Richard Hennessy, Anwer Mujahid Khan and James Kraemer describe:

A computer implemented method, apparatus, and computer usable program code for finding skills and resources for a chaotic event. Skills data for the chaotic event are organized. A determination is made whether the skills and the resources are available in response to a receiving an identification of the skills and the resources that are required to manage the chaotic event. The skills and the resources are optimized based on requirements and constraints, potential skills, and enabling resources to determine optimized skills and optimized resources. The availability of the optimized skills and the optimized resources are verified. The optimized skills and the optimized resources are reoptimized in response to a determination that the optimized skills and the optimized resources are unavailable.

Pardon my skepticism here - while what is described here certainly seems laudable, it doesn’t sound like much more than a nice robust system that links resources with those who need them. The word "chaos" is being (mis)appropriated to add some juice to the patent claim. There ain’t no chaos here, at least not in the sense of CHAOS Theory. The word chaos then doesn’t convey anything more than a hook for readers and , presumably, patent examiners.

Maybe the authors do better in actually describing a chaotic event. See what you think:

Major chaotic events are, by definition, times of great difficulty. Chaotic events are events that cause an interruption in routines normally performed by people in everyday activities because of damage inflicted to individuals and infrastructure. For example, there is great potential for episodes of profound chaos during hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves, solar flares, flooding, terrorism, war, and pandemics to name a few. Even when the chaotic event is statistically predictable, the results are often still shocking. Chaotic events do not occur frequently, but the results may be long lasting and unexpected.

About the only thing missing is the chaos ensues when it rains on the day of an outdoor wedding…

Again, I cringe at how "chaotic" is thrown around, an adjective without a country: "chaotic events are, by definition, times of great difficulty". Whose definition?

This entire patent application is filled with this stuff, along with the technical specs. Chaotic events convey something much different, richer and deeper. Certainly "statistically predictable" is a hollow phrase if I’ve ever heard one. Shouldn’t a chaotic event occur because of a sensitive dependence on initial conditions, making predictability oxymoronic?

It seems to me that the more appropriate wording would be "the chaos that surround catastrophic events." This is still not the chaos from chaos theory, but it is closer to the mark.

Just be careful if you’re planning an outdoor wedding.