Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence


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A Playful Riff on “Decide”

A person close to the DMN (Decision Model Notation) standard recently wrote:

I can’t see how you can object to the idea that decisions can be automatic, or used for detection, unless you maintain that decisions can only be taken by people?

  My Response Putting theological questions aside, in the beginning there was man. Well, people. Well, animals and people. As far as science is currently aware, there is nothing else in the universe that can “decide” something. Well, let’s put quantum mechanics aside. How things get “decided” there is just plain weird. That’s not human scale anyway (as far as science is currently aware). My point is that the concept “decide” makes absolutely no sense unless you acknowledge that “deciding” is a human concept. People decide stuff (or decide when things have been “decided”.) When Machines “Decide” Can machines “decide” things? Of course. Can they often “decide” things better than humans? Of course. Can they often “decide” things instead of people? Of course. Would you call what it is the machines do in such cases “deciding” if there were no people who could do the thing we call “deciding” in the first place? Of course not. “To decide” is fundamentally a human characteristic. If you try to remove the “human” sense of “to decide” from the verb, it’s not how the average person would understand it. This sense comes across clearly in the real world definition of “decide” [MWUD]: to dispel doubt on. When Machines “Doubt” Can machines “doubt”? I’ll let the philosophers decide that (yes decide). I’ll just say this: I doubt (yes doubt) it would be called “doubt” unless people experienced “doubt” in the first place. So when you use the word “decide”, even for what machines are doing, use it for things that people would call “decide”. If you want to use the word “decide” for machines in some other way – for things that people wouldn’t call “decide” in the real world – then please, just plainly admit you’re in systemland, not in peopleland.

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Ronald G. Ross

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.