Posted Saturday, November 10th, 2007 at 6:14 pm under companies, representation, tech.

Multiplying with Roman numerals

I like thinking about the power of representation, particularly inside computers. I wrote about it earlier in the year and gave a couple of examples. Here’s another.

Think about how you might have done multiplication with Roman numerals. Why is it so difficult?

It’s not because multiplication is inherently so hard. Roman numerals were just a terribly awkward way to represent numbers. However, if you introduce the concept of a zero and use a positional representation, things become much easier.

Note that the problem hasn’t changed, only the representation did. A new representation can make things that look like problems go away.

I claim that we are still using Roman numerals to manage information online (and on the desktop for that matter). Until we do something about it, we’ll probably continue butting our heads against the same problems and they’ll probably continue to appear intractable.

At Fluidinfo, everything we do is based on a new way to represent information.