Computers and Optimizing Schedules

When will we begin to use computers for useful things such as scheduling? There are many ways we could vastly improve our life by taking advantage of the computational power we have available. One big area in in scheduling. Schools in particular could take advantage of this. Right now the system is:

Lump people born in a 365 day period together.

Put them in a fixed schedule.

Put them through the school at the same rate regardless of their ability.

In a strong system which took advantage of computation, the following properties would be true:

No groups of people would be  fixed – everyone would be treated as an individual

There would be no fixed schedule. The computer would determine on the fly what your schedule is (for the next x days).

Smarter students would progress through the system faster. This is the whole reason we use it. If all students have to take the same classes then this whole algorithm is pointless.

I’m not an expect on scheduling algorithms but this is a feasible problem. Here’s how the solution would look:

It would need to be run on a very powerful computer. Actually, the more power the computer had the better the scheduling algorithm would work. This is because the bottleneck to how good of a schedule you can design is the amount of computing you can do (as it should be – a sign that you’ve found the solution to a problem is when the bottleneck is computational power and not designing better algorithms).

The only real problem with system is that at the start and end of the scheduling there would be bunching just like in the normal way we do it. Classes can’t run if there’s just one student. It has to wait until there are enough students to make it worthwhile. A student in the middle of his school lifetime would have the most flexibility whereas those at the end would have the least. It’s like how a binomial distribution is. The intervals at the start are quite jerky and jumpy, but the middle is smooth.

The strength of the algorithm would improve as the number of students improved because it allows for greater flexibility. This is why it is ideal to have a larger group.

I think some people would sturggle to imagine what an optimized timetable would look like. It’s pretty simple. The better students progress faster through the system because they have to take fewer classes. The computer would figure out who the best students were by looking at their tests results and so on. There’s actually an episode of Star Trek where a super computer decides everything for a civilization including all moral decisions, and I’m reminded some what of that but this is an ideal calculation for computers. Humans are terrible at optimizing schedules.

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