February 8th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The term dynamic programming was originally used in the 1940s by Richard Bellman to describe the process of solving problems where one needs to find the best decisions one after another. By 1953, he refined this to the modern meaning, referring specifically to nesting smaller decision problems inside larger decisions, and the field was thereafter recognized by the IEEE as a systems analysis and engineering topic. Bellman’s contribution is remembered in the name of the Bellman equation, a central result of dynamic programming which restates an optimization problem in recursive form.
Bellman explains the reasoning behind the term dynamic programming in his autobiography, Eye of the Hurricane: An Autobiography (1984). He explains:
“I spent the Fall quarter (of 1950) at RAND. My first task was to find a name for multistage decision processes. An interesting question is, Where did the name, dynamic programming, come from? The 1950s were not good years for mathematical research. We had a very interesting gentleman in Washington named Wilson. He was Secretary of Defense, and he actually had a pathological fear and hatred of the word research. I’m not using the term lightly; I’m using it precisely. His face would suffuse, he would turn red, and he would get violent if people used the term research in his presence. You can imagine how he felt, then, about the term mathematical. The RAND Corporation was employed by the Air Force, and the Air Force had Wilson as its boss, essentially. Hence, I felt I had to do something to shield Wilson and the Air Force from the fact that I was really doing mathematics inside the RAND Corporation. What title, what name, could I choose? In the first place I was interested in planning, in decision making, in thinking. But planning, is not a good word for various reasons. I decided therefore to use the word “programming”. I wanted to get across the idea that this was dynamic, this was multistage, this was time-varying. I thought, let’s kill two birds with one stone. Let’s take a word that has an absolutely precise meaning, namely dynamic, in the classical physical sense. It also has a very interesting property as an adjective, and that it’s impossible to use the word dynamic in a pejorative sense. Try thinking of some combination that will possibly give it a pejorative meaning. It’s impossible. Thus, I thought dynamic programming was a good name. It was something not even a Congressman could object to. So I used it as an umbrella for my activities.”
This seems to be about Charles Erwin Wilson. There is nothing in the Wikipedia entry about him hating research, but he does seem to have focused on transforming the military while keeping costs down.
Wilson’s nomination sparked a controversy that erupted during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, based on his large stockholdings in General Motors. Reluctant to sell the stock, valued at the time at more than $2.5 million, Wilson agreed to do so under committee pressure. During the hearings, when asked if he could make a decision as Secretary of Defense that would be adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively. But he added that he could not conceive of such a situation “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa”. This statement has frequently been misquoted as “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country”. Although Wilson tried for years to correct the misquote, he was reported at the time of his retirement in 1957 to have accepted the popular impression.
Although the Eisenhower administration generally adhered to the New Look throughout Wilson’s term, the policy remained controversial. Some critics maintained that it made impossible the fighting of a limited non-nuclear war. The Army and Navy felt that the increased emphasis on air power and nuclear weapons represented a departure from the concept of “balanced forces”, where individual service programs were balanced against overall requirements. Implicit in the policy was rejection of the idea that a year of crisis with the Soviet Union was imminent (to occur when the Soviets achieved offensive nuclear capability against the United States) or that a general war was just around the corner. Wilson pointed out frequently that defense policy should be long-term and not based on short-range projections of Soviet-American relations. “Military expenditures”, he observed, “must be adequate, but not so great that they will become an intolerable burden which will harm the social and economic fabric of our country. True security cannot be founded on arms and arms alone.”
…Its standing threatened by the New Look, the Army questioned the wisdom of reliance on “massive retaliation” and strategic air power to the neglect of other force elements. Secretary Wilson reportedly observed that the United States “can’t afford to fight limited wars. We can only afford to fight a big war, and if there is one, that is the kind it will be.” But by 1955 the Army, and later in the decade the Navy, departed from their emphasis on preparation for total war by urging the need to prepare for limited war, non-global conflicts restricted in geographical area, force size, and weapons (although tactical nuclear weapons were not ruled out). Generals Ridgway and Taylor stressed the need to have a variety of forces available and equipped to fight different kinds of war from a local non-nuclear war to a global strategic nuclear conflict. They rejected the notion that limited wars would occur only in less developed areas and argued that such conflicts might occur in the NATO region as well.