Garbage in, garbage out

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In computer science, garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) describes the concept that flawed, or nonsense input data produces nonsense output or "garbage". In the UK the term sometimes used is rubbish in, rubbish out (RIRO).[1][2][3]

The specific phrase is accredited by FOLDOC to the late Wilf Hey, who is also accredited by FOLDOC for work in developing RPG while working at IBM in 1965.

The principle also applies more generally to all analysis and logic, in that arguments are unsound if their premises are flawed.

History[edit]

It was popular in the early days of computing, but applies even more today, when powerful computers can produce large amounts of erroneous data or information in a short time. The first use of the phrase has been dated to a November 10, 1957, syndicated newspaper article about US Army mathematicians and their work with early computers,[4] in which an Army Specialist named William D. Mellin explained that computers cannot think for themselves, and that "sloppily programmed" inputs inevitably lead to incorrect outputs. The underlying principle was noted by the inventor of the first programmable computing device design:

On two occasions I have been asked, "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

— Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher[5]

More recently, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch comes to a similar conclusion:

A loading computer is an effective and useful tool for the safe running of a ship. However, its output can only be as accurate as the information entered into it.

— MAIB, SAFETY FLYER Hoegh Osaka: Listing, flooding and grounding on 3 January 2015[6]

The term may have been derived from last-in, first-out (LIFO) or first-in, first-out (FIFO).[7]

Decision-makers increasingly face computer-generated information and analyses that could be collected and analyzed in no other way. Precisely for that reason, going behind that output is out of the question, even if one has good cause to be suspicious. In short, the computer analysis becomes a credible references point although based on poor data.[8]

A book has been titled "One Man's Garbage ... Another Man's Treasure" (Dominic Covey).[9]

Uses[edit]

The term can also be used as an explanation for the poor quality of a digitized audio or video file. Although digitizing can be the first step in cleaning up a signal, it does not, by itself, improve the quality. Defects in the original analog signal will be faithfully recorded, but might be identified and removed by a subsequent step by digital signal processing.

GIGO is commonly used to describe failures in human decision-making due to faulty, incomplete, or imprecise data. This sort of issue predates the computer age, but the term can still be applied.

GIGO was the name of a Usenet gateway program to FidoNet, MAUSnet, e.a.[10]

In statistics[edit]

Incorrect data can still permit statistical analysis. Although in Statistics incorrect or inaccurate data can hamper proper analysis,[11] it can still be handled. The classic a broken clock is right twice a day can be defined as less than fully correct by noting that certain time settings are only correct once per day at least once per year.[12] By contrast, information that relays a count, even if the count is incorrect, the data's precision is accurate.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Machine learning collaborations accelerate materials discovery". Physics World. 2019-06-30. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  2. ^ Adair, John (2009-02-03). The Art of Creative Thinking: How to be Innovative and Develop Great Ideas. Kogan Page Publishers. ISBN 9780749460082.
  3. ^ Fortey, Richard (2011-09-01). Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time has Left Behind (Text Only). HarperCollins UK. pp. 23, 24. ISBN 9780007441389.
  4. ^ "Work With New Electronic 'Brains' Opens Field For Army Math Experts". The Hammond Times. p. 65. Retrieved March 20, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ Babbage, Charles (1864). Passages from the Life of a Philosopher. Longman and Co. p. 67. OCLC 258982.
  6. ^ MAIB (2016-03-17). "SAFETY FLYER" (PDF). MAIB. Retrieved 2016-03-19.
  7. ^ Quinion, Michael (5 November 2005). "Garbage in, garbage out". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  8. ^ Daniel T. Brooks, Brandon Becker and Jerry R. Marlatt (1981). "Computer Applications in Particular Industries: Securities". Computers & The Law, American Bar Association, Section of Science and Technology (Third ed.). pp. 250, 253.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. ^ Dominic Covey. One Man's Garbage ... Another Man's Treasure.
  10. ^ jfesler (2001-01-01). "GIGO History". gigo.com. Retrieved 2014-01-24.
  11. ^ "Garbage In, Garbage Out: How Anomalies Can Wreck Your Data – Heap – Mobile and Web Analytics". heapanalytics.com. 7 May 2014.
  12. ^ Steve Goldstein (September 3, 2015). "Oops — Rick Perry says broken clock is right once a day". The New York Post. Retrieved September 19, 2019. A broken clock that says 2:07 is right once on the first day of daylight saving time.
  13. ^ A hospital bed, in general, does not usually have half a person, unless one person is sprawled across more than one bed, or . . . something else found in battlefield situations. Jim Fowler; Phil Jarvis; Mel Chevannes (2013). Practical Statistics for Nursing and Health Care.