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October 16 , 2008


Technology at the Limits of Comprehension


The acclaimed author of The Half-Life of Facts explains the challenges of overly complex technology.
On July 8th, 2015, something weird happened. The NYSE computers went down and trading was suspended for several hours. The culprit wasn't hackers or a rogue algorithm. It was just... a glitch. And it's just the beginning.
Technological complexity is no trivial matter. While a few hours of suspended trading may not have had lasting impact on the markets, imagine the damage that could result from a breakdown of our air traffic control systems, or earthquake warning systems. We need a new way to think about technology, and we need it fast.
In Overcomplicated, complexity scientist Samuel Arbesman argues that we've reached a new era: a time when our technological systems have become too complex and interconnected for us to fully understand or predict.
From our machines and software to our legal frameworks and urban infrastructure, Arbesman explores the forces that lead us to continue to make systems more complicated and more incomprehensible, despite our best efforts to make them simpler. He goes on to identify a new framework for thinking about (and planning within) complex systems.
We must abandon the idea that we will understand the rules, and instead become field biologists for technology – relying on description and observation to uncover facts about how a system might work.
Whether you work in business, finance, science, or IT, or you simply own a smart phone, Overcomplicated offers valuable insight on how to adapt to the complex age we are living in.
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