The Best Laid Plans of Mice…

It’s been a strange, stressful week. I’ll beg your indulgence for a moment here. I still want to consider how robots will be developed and tested but, today I want to go in a slightly different direction. I want to quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
In Douglas Adams’ story, hyper-dimensional beings, who appear to humans as lab mice, attempted to sort out the “wretched question” of Life, the Universe, and Everything! They developed a computer called Deep Thought which would calculate the answer to the question once and for all. After generations, the computer came up with an answer, “42!” It then suggested that no one actually knew what the question was and that a bigger computer would have to be built. A computer so large, in fact, that it would require organic organisms to be part of the computational matrix. Deep Thought named the new computer “The Earth.” (Adams, 1983, p 171)
The Earth was built and after 2 million years processing, just before it could complete it’s calculations, an alien species destroyed it to make way for a hyper-space by-pass.
The reason I bring this up, besides the fact that I’m a geek and it’s my nature, is that companies do this kind of thing all the time. The company may develop on a shorter time-scale, for instance only worrying about this quarter’s results. If it plans longer term, the further out the resolution is, the more planning has to be done. And the more monitoring the company has to do to make sure the goal is still being reached. In the story for example, had the mice been diligent about making sure the computer program was working, they would have noticed the plan to put in the hyper-space bypass and fought it, at least until their calculations had concluded.
The other thing to notice here is that laws may change while a product is being developed or another team may develop something that is at cross-purposes to the project we are working on. In this case, government planning functionally rezoned an area that the mice were using but didn’t bother to inform the mice. This implies that the risk review must be a constant process in a project, especially if it runs for any length of time.

Adams, D. (1979). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Random House