Friday, 5 December 2014

Ambiguity in languages, sciences, software, ...

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines ambiguity as "something that does not have a single clear meaning". I don't want to talk about ambiguity itself now, just want to open a discussion around the reason why we human do have ambiguity in anything we develop at all.

Every human speaking language has ambiguity and many obscure words, in English for example (which I'm trying to learn and this is the main reason of this post) check the followings:
  • What the is the difference between "dull" and "pull" that makes pronounce them "dəl" and "po͝ol"!
  • Why "right" & "wright" have similar pronunciation? or "buy" & "by", "cell" & "sell", ... 
  • Or "fine" with different meanings like "very thin" or "best quality", "excellent", ... (these are some of its meanings if we consider it as an adjective)
  • ...
You know better than me how many of these ambiguities and obscures we can find in any human languages, these were just some words there are many more in grammar rules and ... Are these ambiguities only exist in human developed speaking languages? or we face such problems in other developments too?


Sciences have ambiguities too
Let's start with something like the above. Did you know “Calorie” and “calorie” don't have a similar meaning in science thermodynamics?  
  • The word “calorie” means an amount of energy we need to give to 1 gram of water to change its temperature from 14.5 °C to  15.5 °C. 
  • It equals exactly to 4.184 joules
  • It approximately equals to 0.000964 BTU (British Thermal Unit)
  • It approximately equals to 1.163×10−6 kWh 
  • It approximately equals to 2.611×1019 eV (electron volt) 
  • ...
And finally, "Calorie" means 1000 calories!? You can find many of these ambiguities in sciences, but why do these exist? At least, we don't expect to have these ambiguities in science because we believe these were developed by the most brilliant human brains? I've read somewhere that there are many ambiguities in writings of even famous scientists. But why?

I just remembered a crazy ambiguity when we talk about K (kilo), M (mega) or G (giga) ... in the computer world. We really don't know if these prefixes are powers of 1000 or 1024?  You may not believe but ambiguity do exist in mathematics too! 

Science and Religion both have ambiguities
I'm a big fan of talking about God's existence. It is obvious that there are many ambiguities in all religions. I don't want to open any argument on it, but just see how we know about the things that have happened some 1500 or 2000 years ago. Someone comes, brings some ideas and develops it. His friends and followers help him in development, they make many changes (intentionally or unintentionally) in his idea while spreading it and ... now what we have, is not the same idea he was talking about at first.

The people who have developed science for us were human too. They make same mistakes and because of humans nature, they sometimes stick to their even wrong ideas, this wrong ideas spread through letters, papers, meetings, phone calls and .... suddenly you see the idea has taken some root ... same as religion.

Software ambiguity 
At first step ambiguity in software comes from the time you are dealing with requirement analysis. People don't know what they want, even if they know the language barrier and ambiguity always pushes makes things unclear for both sides (user and software engineer). Same as the first step at any other steps of the development cycle, many other ambiguities will be added to the software. Now what you have, is not what the user want or have in mind. 

Even worst, now consider software is done, this software should run in an environment (OS) and cooperates with other software which all of them has ambiguities too. Note that we don't talk about simple quiz like programs, we are talking about the real world. Even in quizzes, you probably have experience ambiguity during your school or university years, don't you?

I'll continue to talk about this topic soon, have a good night.

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