My Person first encountered the basic Living Algorithm in 1978. He was looking for something to characterize the endless streams of data he was generating to tabulate his daily activities. An obsessive record keeper, he used this habit as a form of positive reinforcement. Every time he did Tai Chi, played music, had a conversation, or even had sex, he recorded the number of hours. In July 1976 he began performing this odd ritual on a daily basis (and still does over 30 years later!)
At first, reviewing the raw data gave him all the information he needed. As the days slipped into weeks and eventually into years, the accumulation of data made it difficult to check his intuitive sense of pattern. He searched for some hard-core mathematics that would provide up-to-date relevant information that would weight the present moment most heavily. Since 1978 was a few years away from the personal computer revolution, there were no spreadsheets available. Accordingly, he yearned for an easy-to-compute ongoing average that would yield some kind of perspective on the erratic nature of day-to-day tabulations.
In the early part of 1978 my Person attended a formal Taoist meditation class with Master Ni, his life-long Tai Chi teacher. It seems to the Author that the quietness of meditation proves to be a continuously useful tool in allowing his ideas to crystallize. It was shortly after beginning meditation that he had his first encounter with this unusual mathematical configuration. Could meditation have catalyzed the insight?
It was love at first sight. He immediately knew that she was special, the equation of his dreams. Not only was she easy to compute, but she would provide him the ongoing contextual information he craved. In tabulation heaven, my Person spent hours calculating ongoing Living Averages for his personal data streams.
Before her identity was clear, my Person referred to her as her result, the Living Average. It wasn’t until decades after their initial introduction that she got her present name – the Living Algorithm. He didn’t imagine that her features would emulate living systems. He was also unaware that he had only encountered her simplest manifestation. Initially, he was suspicious that there was more to her than he knew, but had no idea how incredibly unique she would be.
Gradually he recognized a greater significance of this simple equation. This evolution in his thinking was by happen stance, not by personal design. He had begun writing some articles designed to communicate his findings about the Triple Pulse to the intelligent public. He engaged friends and family in reviewing the article to ensure that the communication was clear. This ongoing collaboration proved to be a catalyzing experience.
Thanks to comments from Laurie, one of his prime collaborators and wife, he decided to separate an investigation of the mathematical nature of this special equation from the main article stream. These writings, which were to eventually coalesce into a book (Triple Pulse Studies), were intended for an intelligent, yet non-mathematical, audience. Set free from the chains of verbal communication, the mathematics could at last run free. In the process of this mathematical articulation, the name, Living Algorithm, came into being.
Curious about this ‘simple’ equation, King, another collaborator and life long friend, asked to edit the article. The collective attention led to the realization that the Living Algorithm he had been employing for decades was just a special case of the general Living Algorithm (sometimes referred to as the Alga Function). The collaboration resulted in the current article, as well as significant sections of subsequent articles in the series.
To better understand the Living Algorithm, read the next article in the series – Living Algorithm Family.
In the computational dark ages of 1978 the Author’s Muse revealed a very special equation. This equation (now called the Living Algorithm) provided an easily computable (pre-computer) up-to-date running (contextual) average of any data stream. The Author called this central measure the Living Average. He employed this measure to analyze the constant stream of data that he was generating concerning his daily activities, i.e. painting, music, sleep, etcetera.
However understanding the ongoing averages of these data streams was not enough. The Author also wanted to know the ongoing range of variation of the data streams. Probability’s traditional Standard Deviation could provide this information. However, computing this measure would not be easy. Before the computer revolution, the computation of the Standard Deviation was daunting, as it entailed square roots – something that even this idiot savant couldn't do in his head.
Then in 1994, after viewing this type of data for sixteen years, the Author had a series of insights, which resulted in the equation for the Decaying Standard Deviation. This coincided with a very fertile period in which he produced some 10 notebooks – his Data Stream Momentum phase. With the personal computer revolution in full swing, calculating square roots was no longer a problem. However, probability’s Standard Deviation proved to be unnecessarily complicated. The Decaying Deviation served the same purpose with no square roots required. Serendipitously, the Deviation’s equation was based upon the same underlying logic as the equation for the Living Average (the Living Algorithm).
The computation of the Decaying Deviation required only positive numerical values, just like the traditional Standard Deviation. Being the curious type, the Author decided to check out what happened when these numerical values could be either positive or negative. Much to his amazement, this yielded a brand new central measure. As this measure indicates the data stream’s tendencies (direction), he named her the Directional. Surprisingly enough, the Directional only applies to data streams, not data sets. The Directional of a fixed data set is inherently always zero, while the Directional of a live data stream is significant. Although of some interest, she didn't yield any results worth noting at the time. Instead, all the insights were based around her Brother, the Deviation. (These insights are expressed in the Boredom Principle and Data Stream Momentum).
In 2002, another 8 years later, another burst of scientific energy resulted in extensions of the Directional. The Author was attempting to create a mathematical model representing interruptions to a creative session. The Deviation proved inadequate to this task. As an alternative he decided to try his Sister, the Directional. Voila! Eureka! The Creative Pulse. Yet, her fascinating and beautiful form was so distracting that the Author forgot entirely about her mother and the rest of the family.
In the Summer of 2010, 8 years later, an even stronger surge took over and is still in charge (June 2012). Almost immediately the subject of his inquiry began expanding rapidly, encompassing a vast territory. The Author realized he needed help. In the Winter of 2011 he entered the Collaboration (with a childhood friend and his wife). Due to the power of collective, and critical, attention upon the subject matter, he came to realize that the Living Algorithm had far more significance than the measures she was computing. It was only in the Spring of 2011 that she was finally given a name separate from the measure she was computing. Then came another big realization – the General Living Algorithm generates the entire Family of Derivatives, not just the Living Average. A few seasons later, in the Winter of 2012, we had the insight that these measures act together to generate an ongoing Predictive Cloud. And here we are 34 years after the initial revelation, and we are still having insights into this complex mess.
To see what happens next check out Data Stream Velocity & Acceleration.