X=X+1 The Master Algorithm of Procrastination, and Hope!

Artificial Intelligence seems to be taking over the world. From #FakeNews to Machine Learning, it seems like the day is nigh when algorithms and robots will do most of the thinking and working for us, leaving us to do…exactly what ?

X=X+1 is a very simple yet powerful logic construct in the field of computer science. This equation -even if prima facie appearing incongruent- is used as a counter to perform a task over and over again until a certain threshold is met. Yes, it certainly lacks the panache of modern day machine learning models that trawl through petabytes of data to produce pedantic prognostications for our predilections: be it the next addition to our shopping basket or a movie pick for the evening.

But it can easily explain more: X=X+1 is the mental model that mirrors a lot of our offline behavior as well. It explains the reason we dilly-dally, drag our feet, procrastinate; after all there is always X+1 (tomorrow) to do something we just aren’t in the mood to do today (X).

Hope, Banksy, ©️Rashesh Jethi

This simple equation also explains why we have the capacity to remain eternally hopeful: we bet on the weather being better next week (the storm will clear up next week..surely) or fall in love (this date was meh, but the next one will be much better!). And when the weather and love interest disappoints, perpetuated with self-doubt in those evenings and wondering if we are fulfilling our raison de etre we often console ourselves by saying “well, there’s always tomorrow” (caveat emptor: not always true).

Those of us who blithely put off to tomorrow what we cannot tackle today take comfort in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wry observation that “..we often consider too much the good luck of the early bird, and not enough the bad luck of the early worm”. Surely, we reason, its better to not hurry, and if that means we take a little longer to do what we need to do, well – the diligence is absolutely justified.

To which I say: its probably helpful we didn’t live 250 years ago in the age of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I don’t think the X+1 argument would fly with Mr. G. Here was a writer, and not just of the variety who pegged a blog every few months when the stars aligned (no need to feel guilty, merely looking askance at yours truly :-/ ). Johann wrote novels, poems, dramas – and just for good measure (one presumes) also an epic and an autobiography. That clearly not being enough, he wrote treatises on anatomy, botany and fractal colors (wait, what?) and after all that, in his spare time penned ten thousand (yeah-as in 10K) letters and three thousand sketches. Somehow he also found time to study and become a lawyer, a well-regarded statesman in the German state of Weimar, travel to Italy and fall in love with several women (relax..not at the same time).”The Sorrows of Young Werther” a book that Goethe wrote when he was in just in his twenties endures as a classic to this day. Among the fanboys of that novel is Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon) who considered it one of the finest #GoodReads, so much so that he supposedly read it half a dozen times and took a copy with him on his friendly travels (including a trip when he was trying to conquer Egypt).

Goethe wrote Werther in just over five weeks. And remember: he lived in an age when there was no electricity, no running hot water, no espresso machines, no WiFi-enabled smartphones (to those of you who say it may be precisely because of that…you may have a point!). But let’s keep this in mind the next time we feel we just don’t have enough time to pursue our dreams and do all that we want to.

Computer science professionals or not, we will be well served to remember the words of this prolific German genius: “Nothing is worth more than this day“. While he may have simply been paraphrasing Horace’s exhortation from two thousand years ago to carpe the diem, the fact remains that today, nae, right now, is all that we have. Let not the siren song of X=X+1 seduce us into putting off until tomorrow that which we can tackle today.

With apologies of course, to the unlucky worm and FDR.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nilesh Patel says:

    Well said, Rashesh! I have my own view of today that kinda goes along the spirit of Goethe’s view.

    “Today is infinite. Today never ends. you are always living in today.”



  2. Darpan says:

    Such a great piece of writing. Amazimg !!


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