Behavioral Programming: How Our Ethos Work

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Christopher Pepe:

Christopher’s an all-star developer and partner/consultant with Praecipio Consulting and a part of in.gredients‘ founding team.

Basic programming: how computers make decisions

Computers are great at solving certain problems – and terrible at solving others.

In its classic model the computer was programmed to make a “choice” given a set of rules that are obeyed. If anything changed, a program wasn’t equipped to adapt. This is great if the computer is, for example, playing chess – it just needs to know the few million possible configurations, play out every game to the end in its head, and choose the move that means it’s most likely to win.

Many computer programs implement an algorithm or a repeatable set of “choices.” They aren’t really choices, though, because the computer will choose the same way every time. To get a program to behave a particular way it has to be programmed to pick exactly the right path. For example, if you’re hungry, get some food – unless you have to go to the bathroom, and in that case go to the bathroom first. Given this flow, the program will never consider if the house is on fire and will burn up. It will also never deviate from its path even if what it “chooses” doesn’t make sense given the bigger picture.

What’s behavioral programming, and why’s it different?

Behavioral programming, however, is bio-mimicry – a way of programming computers to act more like plants and animals so they’re better suited to adapt to change. A set of behaviors are programmed in and depending on the most pressing need, a behavior emerges. Think of The Sims. If you’re hungry, go get food. But if you have to go to the bathroom food may need to wait… that is, unless the house is on fire. You’re still limited by the behaviors you’ve learned, but are more free to choose which behavior best fits your current environment. As the environment changes, so may the best choice.

So what could this possibly have to do with in.gredients?

Glad you asked!

We’re often asked how we select our products – i.e., what criteria’s most important in choosing products for the store. It’s hard to say “Term A” is more important than “Term B” because in the real world few things are so cut-and-dry. Today’s world is a complex array of terms both positive and negative, often with loose definitions like “natural.” Terms like organic, beyond-organic, biodynamic, local, heirloom, sustainable, green, natural, free-range, cage-free, pastured, grass-fed, grass-finished, GMO, chemical, big-ag, and toxic are thrown around. Organic actually has a legal meaning, but there’s a lot of variation in how it’s applied. Most of the others vary wildly in what they mean. Often times, a non-certified organic small farm may be a better environmental steward than a large national organic brand. It’s a complex field to navigate.

At in.gredients we take each product into consideration and inspect it from every angle. Where does it come from, what are the ethos of the producer and the rest of the supply chain, are there alternative options we can compare it to…and, like in behavioral programming, make a calculated decision based on the decisions unique environment and the variables within it. And just like real-life, those variables may change in the future, and our decisions may have to react and adjust.

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  1. […] Read a blog post about our decision-making ethos re: non-local products like Bob’s Red Mill […]

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