Over-complicated

Source: Fast Company, Jul 2016

… how the same technological advances that have improved our lives are also making the world harder and harder to comprehend.

The goal of Overcomplicated isn’t to scare anyone.

Rather, it’s to suggest strategies for living in a complex world run by complex systems. One is to build technologies in closer accordance with the linear ways that human brains think. That could be changing programming languages to align more closely with how people count and speak—therefore reducing the number of mistakes a programmer might make. Another is an acceptance that building complex technology, like self-driving cars, is an iterative process that needs constant improvement and room for error.

Arbesman dedicates his book to his two children, so I ask what education and job advice he would have for them, growing up in a world that is not very cut-and-dry and all. He says he might advise them to become “generalists” in some way, people who are capable of dabbling in different fields. The “Renaissance man” of yore may be dead—it is impossible to make discoveries in so many fields, the way Leonardo da Vinci did—but he thinks we need to pause on the path to continued, ever more specific specialization of knowledge.

As he writes in the book:

“The places where generalists can thrive best are the places where we understand the least, where the systems are so complicated and interconnected that the best we can do is hope for a chronicling of the miscellaneous. What this means is that the education of generalists will involve not just learning what is known, but also learning ways of exploring the unknown, the new, and the unexpected.”

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