Hard Computers And Fuzzy People

I was thinking about ATS systems and how they worked while cutting the lawn the other day and I had an insight about them that I don’t think that people appreciate.  For a computer, there is no “maybe.” A computer is not a brain and the software program running defines everything as yes, or no.

There was a time, back when I was a kid and a teenager that you could actually see this.  The  first time I played with a computer we used a teletype and had paper tape like this.

That Altair he’s playing with is a generation ahead of what we had.

Most computer progammers know that computers are totally literal.

People though, are fuzzy. For that matter all life is.  Life does not have a binary solution set If it did there shortly would be no life because the chaotic maybes is what allows life to adapt. When you watch animal behaviors, there’s always a number of animas that will go a different direction or in use both sides of a binary decision seemingly randomly even when the solution is seemingly obvious.  The reason for that is that in a lady or a tiger option there’s always the chance that either door will have the tiger. Nature does not play favorites. So having the ability to choose wrong is a survival trait. It’s better for life to be fuzzy.

What does any of this have to do with ATS systems and how they are applied?  Well it comes back to the fact that programs have to be created by people who understand binary solution sets, but they may not be used by people who understand binary solution sets. Most computers are used by people who don’t really understand on a gut level how they work.  The people who do have worked very hard to make computers user friendly and while it may seem that they can be non binary it is not. Here is the most advanced robot to date.

Look how it moves.  And how long it takes to make decisions.  This machine is far slower than an animal when reacting to the environment. That’s because the robot is working it’s way through millions of yes/no’s all the time. There is no fuzziness in the robots actions.

Just as there is no fuzziness in an ATS. At it’s core an ATS is nothing more than a Galton Machine. Each of the pins represents a job requirement.  There are couple of large problems with this. One the ATS is trying to select for the slot on the far right that as often as not has no ball in it all.  The other is that more requirements only increases that possibility.

That’s because the more decision points before an actions the more likely it is that a null result is the only one that you ever see. When somebody from HR sets up the ATS based on the all too numerous job requirements and then adds the diversity requirements you end up with an exclusionary set that excludes everybody.  You be better off having this character filter resumes.


No computer will ever demonstrate insight. Not even Watson, entertaining as the adds are.  For that matter no computer, no matter how many processors it has, no matter how fast they process will ever understand life.  The binary solution set excludes the things that create.  A computer only knows the box that somebody programs into it. A computer has no imagination.



I think that a lot of people get their impression about how a computer works from TV and movies.  For decades the media has shown us computers that even when evil were somehow alive.  It’s all too easy to believe this image of computing because it’s been embedded so deep into the culture that even when using a computer every day, we still hold the imaginary alive computer in the back of our heads. So when somebody makes promises of the almost oracular properties of a software we want to believe it. Thus the ATS and the promises.

No computer software can replace the insight needed to make hiring and personnel choices. If you try all you do is replace your valuable insight and abilities, your incredible fuzzy imagination with an algorithm  written by somebody that you will likely never meet and who knows nothing about your business or company culture.

The flipside is what the algorithm won’t tell you.  The computer is going to find out about the  salesperson who grew up in your largest market, who’s dad worked for your biggest customer.  It’s not going to  tell you about the marketing genius who likes to paint and has gallery pictures.  It’s not going to tell you about the engineer who likes to bake great cakes for parties.  The computer doesn’t know to look for those things that make the whole person.   That’s outside what the computer can do.

Computers are amazing machines. In the end, though a computer is still nothing more than a very fancy adding machine.  It doesn’t have a brain and it doesn’t, no matter how many transistors and CPUs it has, think.  All a computer does is add numbers and make yes/no branches.  Expecting a computer to be some sort of oracle that will solve your problems is the height of bad decision making.

Hiring is making an investment in your company’s future.  Done well, with insight and marketing, recruiting can bring in the kind of people that will take your company places you can’t even imagine. Done poorly and the people you will be the millstones that drag your company into the abyss.  Is the thing you want to trust to a black box?


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