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What is the Black Box Model?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2016
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The black box model is a term used in a number of different sciences and fields of study, though in each it generally refers to the same basic concept. At its heart, a black box system simply describes any sort of model or system in which input can be entered or observed and output can be gathered or received, but the processing takes place unseen. In other words, input enters into a system and output comes out from the system, but the process by which that input is considered in order to generate the output is not observed and typically not fully understood. The black box model is often used in computer programming, financial planning, and the study of human behavior.

While the precise origin of this model is not known with absolute certainty, it was in use by the 1940s and has been associated with a number of different fields of inquiry. In computers and programming, it typically refers to a program or hardware setup in which input can be entered and output received without regard for the processing that occurs. This is often used in testing programs to ensure that certain types of input will generate the proper output, but without observing the actual processing.

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A black box model can also often be used by a company in testing hardware or programming on hardware that belongs to another company. For example, a new video game may be developed on new hardware that does not belong to the company developing the game. The company will use a black box model to create the input going into the game, and seeing the desired output, but without fully understanding the hardware with which they are working. This is often done to preserve corporate secrets and the confidentiality of new hardware being developed.

Financial planners and investors will often use this type of model for their investments as well. In this type of system, certain parameters are set for investments to be made or for stocks to be sold. When the parameters are met, the system automatically takes the proper action. In this way the input is set and the output is observed, but a person is typically never aware of the actual process utilized.

A black box model is often used by behaviorists when considering human thought and behavior as well. The human mind is considered a black box in this type of analysis, where a psychologist can say things to a person, the input, and receive feedback from the person, the output. The actual cognitive process that occurs in the person is never observed, behaviorists argue, and should not therefore be considered when analyzing human behavior.

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