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Garbage in garbage out

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The saying ‘garbage in garbage out’ is as old as computers themselves. This was the first thing I was taught about computers thirty one years ago.

It is the first ‘epistle’ of computer programming. It teaches you that computer programmes are unforgiving; give them junk and they will give you rubbish back.

Is the garbage in garbage out still relevant in this day? The answer is yes or no.

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There are computer programs that obey this rule to the letter. If you punch in nonsense, the program will give it back to you in equal measure.

However, code writers of today use more sophisticated tools like artificial intelligence (AI). AI gives human attributes to a computer program. Instead of throwing out an input as garbage, the program tries to make sense of what initially appears to be an incomprehensible input.

Take for example Google search engine, what appears like a very simple website is actually a very sophisticated piece of code. It has very complex mathematical algorithms and AI features. When you input a wrongly spelt word for search, the program does not throw it away out-rightly. Google will try to make sense of the word and deduce what you actually wanted to input.

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Google goes ahead to suggest to you words that you meant to input. You have probably seen the line ‘perhaps you meant …….’ That is what I am talking about.

The old programs had two main branches; if the input is not correct, throw out the input or if the input is correct, proceed. These days, code writers add another branch where the wrong input is analyzed to deduce the correct input and throw it back into the process.

When you type in Microsoft word, the word processor autocorrects wrongly spelt words for you. This is the antithesis of garbage in garbage out.

Today’s camera/software combinations for smartphones can snap amazing pictures in bad weather. The camera software captures bad images and turns them into amazing photos. You can also take good pictures and ask the camera software to distort them.

All I am trying to say is that the saying that a picture never lies that most of us learnt in the primary school is no longer relevant. The camera does lie today.

Computer technology changes all the time and things that were true some twenty years ago may not be today.

So, before you throw in some rusted computer axiom, just make sure you checked the details; google it if you are not sure.

And don’t forget to send me a thank you note!

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