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Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension
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Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  494 ratings  ·  69 reviews
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
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published July 19th 2016 by Current
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Scott Sigler
I enjoyed this book, but put it down at some point and didn't pick it back up. I would say that's my fault more than the author's it's getting harder and harder for me to finish a print book. Audiobooks dominate in my world. ...more
Artur Coelho
Aug 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
É algo complicado perceber qual é o propósito deste livro. Promete ser uma reflexão sobre os sistemas complexos que suportam o nosso dia a dia, desde as infraestruturas tecnológicas aos códigos legais. Tem uma linha de pensamento muito clara: da colisão da expansão do conhecimento e desenvolvimento tecnológico surgiram sistemas de elevada complexidade, dos quais dependemos para manter a funcionar a economia, instituições, e cada vez mais, com a computação pessoal e a internet, as nossas vidas ...more
Atila Iamarino
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Nunca mais vamos entender completamente a tecnologia. Essa foi a mensagem principal desse livro. Uma explicação rápida e bem direta de como sistemas se tornam complexos, da nossa língua a leis, de um programa de computador ao funcionamento de um Boeing 777, e como um sistema complexo e cheio de interações como esse (daí o complicado) se torna simplesmente incompreensível. De onde surgem bugs misteriosos, problemas sem solução e todo tipo de gambiarra criativa que constrói em cima do que já ...more
Jerrid Kruse
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Introduces the Entanglement in which complex systems are so interconnected that they are essentially not understandable. This leads to mythical entities like "bugs" and "glitches" that seem to be somewhat random (based on our lack of knowledge). The author notes how complexity thinking in science (biology) might be more useful to gain understanding of tech than a relationship thinking (physics). Yet, a mix is likely reasonable. Finally, given the complexity, the author notes the problems with ...more
Peter Geyer
The subtitle of this book "Technology at the limits of comprehension" could pass for my personal knowledge and inclinations on this topic notwithstanding, as Samuel Arbesman points out here, that I may be expecting too much of the complex cobbled-together systems that operate throughout my life.

His theme, and use of the term "kluge" has also been applied in the area of brain research, where presumptions about brains in general can suggest that it's much more perfect than what it
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is a short book about the limits of our techniques for managing technology. I didn't care for it. The basic premise of the book is "our technology has gotten too complex for us to understand and we need new paradigms for managing it." Much of this book is true, much is thought-provoking, but alas the two subsets have limited overlap. The book also suffers from a lack of clear audience: it's a book about what technologists should do, written for non-technologists with limited grip on the ...more
Mohamed El Mourabite
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing

مع التطور التكنولوجي لابد من دفع ضريبة هي التعقيد, الذي يزداد على نحو أسي مع كل كشف علمي.
ويزداد حتى نصل إلا نقطة يتعذر على عقولنا فهم هذه الأنظمة, فمثلا لا يوجد أحد على وجه الأرض قادر على فهم كل جزء من نظام التشغيل, لأن بعض مكوناته مكتوبة بلغة برمجة قديمة لم تعد مستخدمة.
التعقيد هو صفة أساسية لكل نظام, لأن هذا النظام ليس إلا تجميعة عدة أنظمة أبسط هي في الأساس معقدة بما يكفي.
و مع هذه الأنظمة المكونة تأتي الأخطاء, وبجمع هذه الأنظمة بطريقة معينة تنتج أخطاء جديدة, وهكذا فمن المستحيل تفادي الأخطاء.
Navaneethan Santhanam
Worth reading, if a bit repeitive

Certainly a timely and fairly interesting book, but the author seemed to repeat himself a lot about all modern technology becoming increasingly hard to comprehend in entirety. There were two or three genuinely interesting bits. He talks about "physics thinking" vs "biological thinking", ie, the difference between finding grand overarching patterns vs examining the specifics. He also used the lens of complex systems to find unifying themes in areas as diverse as
Pap Lőrinc
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Summary: "the world is complicated, nobody can understand it, but that's ok".
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Why cars, websites, and other cool technological things, go batshit crazy and what to do about it (sort of).
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a nice introduction to some concepts in complexity theory and computer science. I thought at times it was repetitive i.e. technology is creeping towards the limits of our understanding if not already surpassed. However, I also thought the author provided some great insight that should make any reader think (interoperability, entanglement, emergence, dark code, hapax legomena, etc). I also liked the correlations to linguistics and a primer on some NLP concepts and machine ...more
This short book discusses the problems caused when technology becomes so complex that few people can understand all aspects of a given invention. The author discusses the ubiquity of errors in software and historical examples where this has caused problems as well as additional problems caused by inter-connectedness.

The author doesn't much posit solutions to this and merely observes what he calls thinking like a biologist and thinking like a physicist in terms of understanding elements vs a
We build systems (software, legal frameworks, etc) and we keep adding features and exceptions to them, each addition triggering an exponential increase of interactions between individual parts. And that's when we lose the ability to understand or anticipate all possible pathways through the system. Our systems and technologies become black boxes.

Once our technological creations reach such high complexities that we don't understand them anymore, we either resort to fear or awe (the modern day
Randy Long
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pretty good synopsis regarding the new normal of Project Management, Expert Systems, and current norms and practices in the world. Truth be told, I had an idea like this a few years' back but nothing ever came of it (go figure).

Arbesman has a good grasp of software engineering, traffic management, the grid all current sectors undergoing rapid and irreversible change. This Information Age has all the makings of a full blown man made disaster, but I'm ever the optimist.

Good read about the
Aug 02, 2019 rated it liked it
from over complicated to entanglement. All starting from simplicity to complex.
Biologist field for technology.
Learning from bugs.
Technology humility

01 欢迎来到这个纠缠的时代
什么是复杂系统 /从启蒙时代到纠缠时代/ 抽象的局限 /
02 复杂系统形成的 4 个原因
原因 1:吸积 /原因 2:交互 /原因 3:必须处理的例外情况 / 原因 4:普遍的稀有事物 / 越来越多的复杂系统
03 为什么复杂系统越来越难以理解了
力不从心的大脑 /认知的极限 / 最后一个无所不知的人
04 令人费解的 bug
并不是所有 bug 都能被消除 / 从错误中学习 /像生物学家一样思考
05 为什么需要生物学思维
复杂的技术系统需要生物学思维的 3 个原因/技术领域的生物学家/当物理学遇见生物学 /复杂性科学的视角 / 思维方式的进化 /我们需要通才
06 生物学思维是理解复杂世界的一把金钥匙
不要被表象迷惑 /以欣慰感看待不理解的事物 / 谦卑之心 +
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I was surprisingly underwhelmed by this book. To sum up - there is lots of systems out there, they are complicated, no, one person can know everything, all good. Press repeat, and repeat again, insert an anecdote, then tell us that there are lots of systems out there and its all very complex - but use a few different words. Kind of reminded me of a 10th grade english essay - where you are just learning to construct the argument and defend it (not well).

I thought the premise of this book was
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
The author took an overcomplicated look at overcomplicated things. Examples were general enough to give weight to the narrative that, although simple things start simply, they evolve with complicated requirements, and thus, complexity. The author repeatedly gives little solution besides, enjoy the ride and forget about resetting the clock to simpler times. ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book isn't a very long read, but I was very impressed with the message. He does a great job explaining complexity in systems. A good read for any technologist who wants to deal with the challenges in their technical world.
Christopher Mcdermott
Very timely

Excellent book that lays out a very good argument about how we are getting detached from the systems that are running out world due to their increasing complexity . The book is well written and suggests some solutions for the problem it describes.
Oct 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: technology
The ghost of the old system continues to haunt the new, The system always kicks back, and the Unawareness Theorem: If youre not aware that you have a problem, how can you call for help? Galls rules ...more
Aj Greenman
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is kind of all over the place without ever really getting anywhere. It keeps coming back to the central theme (technology is becoming too complicated for us to handle) without really going anywhere from there.
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Compelling thesis and entertaining anecdotes, but only contained enough for a more economical 3-5,000 word essay. The last hundred pages were repetitive.
Maciej Janiec
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Let's try to uncomplicate it.
Deane Barker
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A short but wonderful book about how we perceive complex systems and some techniques for understanding them better.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At the end of the day, it's a good book on epistemics.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book describing the overcomplexity of today's existing systems and how to step back to analyze the bigger picture of what technology is doing.
James Tomkins
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting but a bit lacking in any deeper conclusion.
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Interesting read for those who may not work with technology. Sadly I am in that field and, although I agreed with most of his points, I didnt find them to be particularly insightful. ...more
Edelhart Kempeneers
May 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Niet echt nieuwe inzichten opgedaan.
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