I learned a new word today. I think I had encountered it at some time in the past, but had forgotten it. Now I’m pretty sure I’ll remember.
I’m studying a book on Workflow in the 2007 Microsoft Office System. That also happens to be the book’s title – technical books tend to have boring names that leave no mystery about what is inside. This book does have at least one surprise, however – it’s very readable. It’s written in conversational, plain English, with occasional references to popular culture (such as HAL 9000 – though I suppose to the younger generation that might be a mysterious reference).
But then in a paragraph about how long workflows take when they involve human beings (which all of them do, in the context of this book), I came upon this sentence:
Let’s face it, from the computer’s point of view, wetware is slow.
Clearly, wetware has something to do with people. (Although my first thought was of glassware used at a wet bar – which has to do with people but not much to do with information processing, especially when they have consumed quite a bit there at the bar.)
Sometimes I will keep on reading if I think I understand the sense of what is being said, even when a particular word is not clear. But I wanted to know what wetware meant. So I goodsearched it (goodsearching is similar to googling, except that goodsearch.com contributes about one cent for each search you perform to a charity of your choice – though it occasionally bogs down due to heavy traffic and comes up empty or simply tells you to try again later – at which point I go to google.com).
Wikipedia gives a nice history of the word, including examples used by various authors – not all of whom use it the same way. As a precise, technical word, Wetware refers to “that aspect of any living system that can be treated as an information system.”
Of course, most wetware (i.e. humans) doesn’t use words in their precise, technical meaning. In computer jargon usage, wetware refers to human beings (programmers, operators, administrators) attached to a computer system. In science fiction usage – well, it really depends on the sci-fi author who is using it – but for the most part it seems to be a synonym (not entirely complimentary) for human being. And in reviewing results of a handful of goodsearch hits on “wetware,” it seems to mean anything from “your brain” to “alive” (i.e. referring to a “wetware” mouse to distinguish it from the computer mouse).
Whichever definition you use, I have to agree that from the computer’s point of view, wetware is slow. Slow, inefficient, and unpredictable. And imaginative. Innovative. Inquisitive. Which is why the hardware and software will always need some wetware around.