Class, Internet, and the Industrial System

Paul Cockshott wpc at
Thu Aug 3 09:08:20 MDT 1995

Jerry said:
I wrote that "bureaucratic structure and language are an integral part of
the software programs."   You must not have understood that sentence.  I
did not say that the programmers are bureaucrats, only that the "language
and structure" of the "programs" is bureaucratic.

This is a misconception. It would be more accurate to say that the
language of bureaucracy attempts to be algorithmic.

I worked as a bureaucrat for the British Post Office in the days
when it ran the telephones, I worked in a big bureau with about
50 people in it. Along the walls ran a long shelf full of TIs or
Telecommunications Instructions. These were large, black, ring-bound
folders that contained detailed instructions on how to deal with
every eventuality from putting up a telephone pole to notifying
another exchange that a line was now open. The instructions
specified a detailed sequence of actions that had to be carried
out if the whole organisation was to function.

There is a clear similarity between this and a formally specified
algorithm - a sequence of instructions specifying the computational
steps to achieve an end.

There are differences :

1. Software programs are specified in a formal language, whereas
   bureacratic instructions use natural language.

2. In consequence there ambiguity in bureaucratic instructions that
   is missing in software.

3. Software instructions undergo automatic formal analysis to remove
   ambiguity which is likely to be undetected in natural language
   formulations until shown up in practice.

The common factor is that both bureaucratic instructions and software
attempt to specify exactly what has to be done so that it can be
done in an automatic, unthinking fashion. To the extent that the
bureaucratic instructions remain ambiguous they rely upon the
understanding and initiative of those working in the bureau to
resolve the ambiguity. To the extent that they are unambiguous, that
branch of the bureaucratic division of labour becomes amenable
to automation.

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