Computerspeak is all around us

Computerspeak is the language of computer experts. If you are in business, or even if you are not, you are likely to hear it often.  You, the client, are the one who pays for all this technology and the people who run it. People easily forget that fact and the fact that computers exist for a purpose: enabling businesses and individuals to do what they need and want. Somehow, IT tends to become an end in itself and the client’s interests slip down the list of priorities.

Why computerspeak?

Many people will give different reasons for why they use such jargon. For example, some say it makes it easier for experts to be precise and to avoid misunderstandings. Some of us suspect it makes the experts seem more important and it makes it harder for the rest of us to hold them to account. I want to redress the balance and give you, the client, a chance to take control.

How am I going to help you?

I am going to produce a dictionary of misleading computer terms and what they really mean. It will come as a series of blog posts over several weeks. (Literalists, especially those in the IT industry, beware: most of this is intended to be humorous. That does not mean it is not true in some way.)The first installment is at the end of this post.

What else can mislead us?

I have written before about fake news  in a blog post and about misleading statistics in my book, How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics. The dangers are still around as so many people want to mislead us. Perhaps you should get the book? Now let us turn to computerspeak.

The cover of How To Avoid Being Misled By Statistics: Don't Be One Of The 60% Who Are Below Average. Computerspeak can also mislead.

The cover of How To Avoid Being Misled By Statistics: Don’t Be One Of The 60% Who Are Below Average. Computerspeak can also mislead.

ABC of computerspeak

AI. This stands for Artificial Intelligence. (Farmers be warned: do not confuse with Artificial Insemination.) This is a way of getting computers to do even more of your thinking for you. Some fear it will replace natural intelligence, whilst others say that would be a bonus for many. However, it has to be created by someone with a lot of the natural kind – we hope!

Apple. One of the biggest IT companies in the world. Nothing to do with fruit. Don’t ask ‘Can I now see your range of Pear or Orange computers?’

Bits or Bytes. These are units of something and measure a computer’s size. Not the size of the machine but it’s capacity. Like horse-power in a car. And nobody knows what that means either. Remember that computers don’t bite but can fall to bits.

Blip. A slight error or malfunction. This means slight from the IT person’s point of view, not the client’s.

Booting. The process of starting up a computer, which may take a long or short time. Do not try literally booting the machine: it won’t help. So far I have resisted the temptation to boot the IT staff, but it  might work.

Controls. Arrangements to make errors impossible. In practice it means arrangements to prevent anyone being blamed for an error, because, by definition, it must have occurred elsewhere in the system.

Data. The bits of information you want to record, store, analyse and retrieve. The main reason for having a computer. Try to remember this when they tell you all the other things it can do and do better than manage data.

Error. A theoretical concept. See above ‘blip’ and ‘controls’. See below under ‘human error’.