Thursday, February 26, 2009

What I dont know about Heuristics would fill a book.

In the process of dealing with my computer problems of the last few days, I came across a term called heuristics, and also "heuristic algorithms". It sounds unbelievably nasty. It sounds like like a propaganda justification for the Nazi concentration camps during the 1930's & 40's. Like it has something to do with determining racial purity by the shape of your head - but I'm sure I'm just mixing up terms.

I still don't have a good understanding of what heuristics is, but seems to me that it's a "best guess". I think anti-virus & other anti-malware software use heuristics now to try to catch malware based on its behavior. The suspected malware may be something that's not been seen before, and it is something that the defending software may not have all the parameters for - so it uses what it has. It makes it's best guestimate and acts accordingly. I'm not sure if I'm understanding this or not. But I'd hope that before some big brother software system decides to shut down my computer for my own protection, that it was a bit more than a best guess. But then maybe I'm misunderstanding what heuristics is.

I found an "in English" explanation. Say you have a large box, and you have to put a lot of stuff into it. The only way to make sure it packed as efficiently as possible is to try every possible combination of packing. Most people don't do that, because it takes too much time. Most people put the larger stuff in first, then pack the smaller stuff around it. It may not be the most efficient way of packing it, but it works pretty well most of the time. They achieve an acceptable solution without using all the possible parameters (in this case excess time & trying every combination). That is heuristics.

But, to quote Nicholas Cage in "Raising Arizona", that's one bonehead word.


Anonymous said...

This is somewhat along the line of "if it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck". Not quite chaos theory, but not quite the Sachertorte Theorem either.

A Valdese Blogger said...

Socrates: Ah, but what about the duck who gets blown out of the sky by a hunter with decoys, a duck call & a black lab.

Anonymous said...

Poor duck!

A Valdese Blogger said...

My point is, if it quacks like a duck, that doesn't mean it's a duck. See Leo's Law of Nasty Coincidences for a more in depth explanation.