All Things Techie With Huge, Unstructured, Intuitive Leaps

Solving The "ish" Function

Quick question: "What is sort of like a dog, belongs to the dog family, has the features of a dog, sort of looks like a dog, but isn't really a dog, but is real "dog-ish"? Can you pick out the answer in the photo below?

What the human brain is very good at, is pattern recognition, or in pseudo techno talk, solving the "ish" function. Our minds can make huge intuitive leaps on very little information. We correctly surmise a correct conclusion from imperfect clues. It serves us well in the real world, because that is a necessity in many situations, including survival situations.

Computers are not so good at the "ish" function. We carbon units have neural nets that are superb at pattern recognition. When you are reading these words, your are not constructing them in your head from the assemblage of letters, rather your brain is instantly recognizing the pattern of the word. That is why you can udenrtnasd tihs snetncee if jsut the frsit and lsat ltetres are itnact.

What got me thinking about the ish function is in the following photo below (click on it for a larger image):

This comes from the actual FBI website. It is a code that they have been trying to crack for 10 years and have failed. Finally they put it up on their website and they are asking the publics's help to solve the puzzle. The URL is

The back story is that a man was murdered and the only thing in his pocket, were two pages of writing written in some sort of code. The best codebreakers in the world have been toiling for 10 years trying to break this code. After putting up the story on their website, they have gotten over 2,000 tips and comments, including one from me.

What I did, was let my own ish circuits process the code. A couple of things jumped out at me. There are repetitions, but I don't think this is cryptography. Cryptography is where you substitute one letter for another, for example an E would be substituted with a J and L would be substitued with a Z. In this way the word "eel" would be written as JJZ.

Rather, I think this is shorthand, where just a few letters represent the whole word. And my contention is that this is bookie shorthand. For example, one can see the word "CBET". Everyone knows that a C note is a 100, so a CBET is code for a hundred dollar bet. You can also make out "TOTE". A tote bet is for win, place or show on horse race.

So this note would be eminently solvable quickly with a built-in ish function in an operating system. One would give the ish function a glossary of betting terms, and the computer would spew out the solutions. One quick ish function that my brain did, was assign the sequence "NCBE" as a Nickel Bet or a $500 bet.

To write an ish function is harder than it looks. Let's suppose that you had to pick out the word GLANDULAR from this sequence FRGGNGBIGGLNDLREGO. There are no white spaces to help you out. What you have to do in general terms is to first look for the general wildcard symbol G*R. In this case it would return 5 possibilities, and then you have have to eliminate the ones that didn't fit. The human brain doesn't have much trouble seeing NiCkelBEt in NCBE, but the ish function would require a lot of flops to tentatively figure it out.

However the ish function would be mighty handy. It would greatly improve OCR or optical character recognition. It would include ROM or Rough Order of Magnitude. When you and I are working on a problem, and our frame of reference tells us that the possible range of answers lie say between 46 and 59, if we get an answer close to that range, we know that we are on the right track.

In the old days, computers were assigned tasks to determine exact values. Quantum physics and fuzzy logic has shown us the shortcomings of exact values. The human brain doesn't operate with exact values, and if we want computers to emulate the human brain, then we need a real good ish function for words, math, pictures, images, meanings and memes. This list isn't comprehensive, but it is ish!

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