Monday, December 24, 2012

Error correction

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that birds are able to correct small errors in their songs but not large ones. In fact, a threshold fault can be demonstrated beyond which there is no recovery. If we abstract this for complex systems, it points to many different implications.

Arrival of errors within certain thresholds, is easier for complex organizations to correct. This seemingly obvious conclusion has many practical applications. It has been shown that small errors in airplane cockpits happen on average once every 10 minutes, giving ample time for correction. So the best way to avoid catastrophic failures is to divide aggregate error in chunks and feed to decision-makers so that correction is optimal. This is true in airplane cockpits, companies and policy-making bodies. The inability of the bird brain and presumably the human brain to correct large errors should be considered in all available designs.

Decisions can be optimized by dividing aggregate error into packets of manageable size spread over manageable time.