May 31 2010

Our Coming Robot Overlords

The recent oil spill in the Gulf has prompted a great deal of wringing of hands – how do such disasters happen? David Brooks discusses in the New York Times that the cause is primarily due to the fact that our modern technological civilization is becoming too complex for us to manage adequately. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig is just one example of a piece of technology that is beyond the mastery of any single person. But there are also nuclear power plants, computer operating systems, jet airliners, financial systems, operating rooms, and numerous other examples.

Brooks concludes:

So it seems important, in the months ahead, to not only focus on mechanical ways to make drilling safer, but also more broadly on helping people deal with potentially catastrophic complexity. There must be ways to improve the choice architecture — to help people guard against risk creep, false security, groupthink, the good-news bias and all the rest.

This seems reasonable. Certainly we  need to get better at managing such complexity, by having clear lines of authority and responsibility, proper risk assessment, and a thorough understanding of group dynamics.

I also wrote previously about The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande offers his own solution, the humble checklist. He convincingly argues that using checklists allows for better communication among individuals engaged in complex tasks, and results in systematic best practices and avoidance of forgetting details. Don’t rely on training and human memory, he argues – have a system.

These are all excellent and practical ideas. They amount to devising methods for human beings to optimize their management of increasing complexity. And these strategies all work.

But I am left with the feeling, taking the longer view, that they are also stop-gap measures. Technological complexity will continue to increase, and it seems likely that complexity will outstrip our desperate attempts to manage it by modifying human behavior. Even if we become experts at mastering complexity, there are practical limits to what we can do.

This also relates to the notion of interdependency. As technology advances, people have to specialize on narrower and narrower slices of that technology. It used to be that craftsmen would construct an entire house – from foundation to finishing. Now a contractor will contract out to dozens of specialists who build one part of the house – an architect, a site engineer, foundation layer, a framer, a roofer, a plumber, electrician, drywall, painter, finishing carpenter, well driller, landscaper, and perhaps even a decorator. You would be hard pressed to find a single crew that can build an entire house anymore.

Medicine is another example – we still need generalists, but more and more they are becoming like contractors – guiding the overall management of health, but farming out to specialists the management of specific diseases and procedures.

The solution that we are increasingly turning to is computers. We are automating those checklists, using computers to communicate among specialists, and expert systems to guide specialists. Computer programs are increasingly involved in design and engineering,  risk management, and even the writing of other computer programs.

As end users we are becoming increasingly comfortable relying upon computers for our needs. The GPS is the perfect example of this. Rather than consulting a map, learning the roads, and planning a route – you simply plug in your destination and mindlessly follow turn-by-turn directions. They are wonderful devices, extremely useful, and that is part of my point.

Computers are already evolving past useful to indispensable. The question is – are they tools to make us more productive and free us from drudgery so that we can engage in more creative endeavors? Or are they making us lazy and dependent by coddling us? Perhaps a combination of both.

One extreme vision of a dystopian future run by computer nannies is Wally. On board the ship that carries the remnants of humanity, people float around on recliners, endlessly engrossed in video entertainment, while the ship’s systems see to their every need.

I am not predicting such a future, nor am I advocating that we simply extrapolate from current trends to their absurd conclusion. But it is an interesting thought experiment – what will ultimately happen as our civilization becomes more and more complicated, and we need to rely more and more on computers? Some think we will merge with computers – we will become them, and will be able to expand our own mental abilities as needed. Perhaps.

We may also reach an equilibrium, at least for a while, between relying on computers and using computers to enhance our own abilities and productivity. We may also see subcultures in which every permutation plays itself out.

We also should not assume that as technology progresses complexity will necessarily increase as well. We may pass through a technological era of maximal complexity, but as our knowledge and technological prowess progress complexity will be replaced by elegant simplicity. Think of the elaborate systems that were in place to, say, publish a magazine, that have now all been replaced by the relative simplicity of desktop publishing. Perhaps technology brings an ebb and flow of complexity, rather than a continuous increase.

It also seems that humans will, to some extent, titrate their own complexity. As technology makes our lives simpler, we find new things to do that add complexity – to the limit of our tolerance, then we search for ways to simplify again.

All of these factors make predicting the future of technology and complexity extremely difficult. But it is interesting to think about.

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42 responses so far

42 Responses to “Our Coming Robot Overlords”

  1. BillyJoe7on 31 May 2010 at 8:14 am

    Alternatively, as the technological singularity approaches, computers may become and overlords and humans the slaves. :(

  2. BillyJoe7on 31 May 2010 at 8:17 am

    …oops, I should have said “masters” since Steve has already used the word “overlords” in a different sense.

  3. SARAon 31 May 2010 at 9:24 am

    I recently saw this cartoon about Orwell vs Huxley dystopian futures. The conclusion is that we are more like A Brave New World. http://www.reddit.com/tb/8nejx

    I think that the complexity ebbs and flows. And when it becomes simple, it becomes even more terrifying. Once the average person can become a user, fewer and fewer people actually have any grasp on the inner workings. Like cars. We become so much more “child like” and dependent.

  4. ccbowerson 31 May 2010 at 11:32 am

    When things become more complex generalists should not become less important, but should become more important for different reasons. Generalist see the big picture that specialists are not accustom to (or trained to) seeing. In the case of the general contractor, picking the specialists and coordination of the tasks are probably the most important things to getting a job done well and on time. For medicine, knowing when to consult specialists is important for good patient outcomes and efficiency of resources. In catastophic situations you need someone who sees the big picture and knows a bit of how everything works for communication and to make proper decisions. Specialist would be consulted for technical and feasibility questions in a catastrophe, but ultimately a generalist would be the decision maker.

  5. Alison Cumminson 31 May 2010 at 11:43 am

    Technology may be getting fancier but the driver for trying to apply it to potentially catastrophic things like offshore drilling is that we’ve already done the easy stuff. Anything new we try is going to be harder.

    It’s easy to cut peat; hard to mine coal. Easy to collect oil oozing out of the ground; hard to drill offshore. Easy to feed 10 million human beings; hard to feed 10 billion human beings.

    No matter how fancy our technology, we wouldn’t be trying to drill offshore if we had copious onshore oil.

  6. The Wolfon 31 May 2010 at 11:44 am

    “We also should not assume that as technology progresses complexity will necessarily increase as well.”

    Complex systems, to be elegant and hugely multivariate, must be largely self-assembling and self-regulating (think biology). No living organism, even the human intelligence can *fully* understand the complexity of even the simplest organic/biological system.

    We are therefore a direct product of a level of complexity that we will never comprehend, and certainly never control.

    We can dissect portions of a system using rudimentary tools, we can learn something about the regulation of the system, but given the task of recreating such complexity, even our best engineers and scientists are lost.

    If our engineers, inventors, etc. do not design complex systems to be evolutionary and self-regulating, we will eventually reach a point where any progress being made will be tempered by multiple points of efficiency-loss.

    I look forward to a future where a self-regulatory, iteratively-evolved computer/mind determines maximally efficient means of production and distribution of foods, goods and culture, such that I can return to what would amount to an essentially a pre-industrial agrarian lifestyle (minimally complex in its application), but maintaining many of the beneficial advances of modern technology:

    Communication and interconnection, high levels of education, strong public health infrastructure, effective medicine, time for leisure and intellectual inquiry, artistic outlet, etc etc etc.

  7. Adam_Yon 31 May 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I’m kind of confused because all I am hearing is something that most engineers have known about since forever. Science and technology have always been interdisciplinary in the same manner that the New York Times article mentions. Its because most scientific and technological endeavors typically require a specialty more than one field of science. Hell even what you mention Steve is nothing new in terms of criticism.

  8. banyanon 31 May 2010 at 12:30 pm

    When I lived in Texas there was a guy living down the road whom we passively observed building his house by himself over the course of over a year. My dad is a naval engineer and one of his best friends from college built an old-fashioned sailing ship completely on his own.

    I feel like our society is just psychologically forcing us to segregate our jobs in which we must be specialists from our hobbies. More and more people do things that used to be work for fun: carpentry, gardening, cooking, and so on. These things are horribly outdated forms of labor, but it provides us with the sense that we are still able to create something from start to finish.

  9. ccbowerson 31 May 2010 at 2:21 pm

    “Science and technology have always been interdisciplinary in the same manner”

    I think this is an exaggeration. What is being discussed is not a new topic, but the rapid progression of technology and knowledge makes even the term interdisciplinary inadequate. The degree of specialization goes far further than “fields of science” as you mention. Areas that used to be considered specialties are made up of subspecialties and sub-subspecialties that didn’t exist before. Individuals may have limited knowledge in their “field of science” that are outside of their subspecialty.

  10. Adam_Yon 31 May 2010 at 5:19 pm

    . I think this is an exaggeration.

    What I learned as an electrical engineer can be applied to airplanes, the world tallest buildings, cars, computers, and electrical circuits. So pray tell how is that exaggerating? I don’t think what you are observing is at all new and unless you can provide an example I only have my engineering background to guide me. And that background shows that the field quickly compartmentalized at around the turn of the century.

  11. HHCon 31 May 2010 at 5:26 pm

    In this week’s CNN interviews, the ex-CEO of Shell Oil, John Hostettler and James Carville, political strategist from New Orleans debated the British Petroleum oil drilling catastrophe.
    Mr. Hostettler stated that when he ran Shell Oil that they routinely prepared for disasters of this nature. So, his point was the industry does understand and prepare for this type of emergency which takes a coordinated effort and extended recovery time. Carville wished that Hostettler was running BP now instead of the current British CEO, given the state of his beloved New Orleans and Lousiana coast. Is complexity ebellished upon simplicity just regression toward the mean?

  12. ccbowerson 31 May 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Adam_Y-

    Your argument comes off as absurd and naive. No one is saying that the idea is new, but it is becoming more important and problematic. From your comments I assume that you have no or limited real world experience (if I’m wrong call me on it).

    I will fly in an airplane that has been designed by people who have worked with airplanes for years. You can fly in the airplanes by those that have a solid background, but work in a different industries. Some specialties more easily cross over to different industries, but for the most part there is a lot of knowledged to be aquired before a person can even be functional in a different industry. Your statements indicate that you don’t understand the depth of specialization of many fields, within and without engineering.

  13. bindleon 31 May 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Amusing to watch a bevy of determinists concerned about the dearth of those who’ll take responsibility.

    Brooks wrote:
    “There must be ways to improve the choice architecture — to help people guard against risk creep, false security, groupthink, the good-news bias and all the rest.”

    What “choice” architecture could that be, they ask with jerk of knee, that doesn’t automatically reflex unto itself?

  14. ccbowerson 31 May 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Here is bindle with his gibberish. Making comments irrelevant to this post.

  15. bindleon 31 May 2010 at 11:45 pm

    I had no choice.

  16. bindleon 31 May 2010 at 11:55 pm

    The robots might be subject to a predetermined indeterminacy of purpose.

  17. Paisleyon 01 Jun 2010 at 12:44 am

    The Wolf: “I look forward to a future where a self-regulatory, iteratively-evolved computer/mind determines maximally efficient means of production and distribution of foods, goods and culture, such that I can return to what would amount to an essentially a pre-industrial agrarian lifestyle (minimally complex in its application), but maintaining many of the beneficial advances of modern technology

    I’m simply looking to a future where the oil industry is not self-regulating itself.

  18. sonicon 01 Jun 2010 at 1:07 am

    “We may also see subcultures in which every permutation plays itself out.”

    One area where this is happening is in music-
    some people I know work exclusively with computers and complex technologies- others are pure acoustic (no electronics at all- and only live, never recorded). Most people use a mixture of both.

    Wasn’t that long ago that a backyard mechanic with a socket wrench and a screw driver could keep a car running well.
    Good luck with that Prius, bub.

  19. Adam_Yon 01 Jun 2010 at 7:41 am

    Your statements indicate that you don’t understand the depth of specialization of many fields, within and without engineering.

    Ooo I do which is why I find your argument so bizarre and weird. The specialization split off a long long time ago and really the technology hasn’t changed all that much from then to now. There is nothing fundamentally different from the engineering problems of yesteryear as compared to today that requires any different specialization. Unless you can think of any examples I’m really at a loss of words.

  20. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2010 at 7:45 am

    bindle,

    Amusing to watch a bevy of determinists concerned about the dearth of those who’ll take responsibility.

    After all this time, you still have no idea. :(

    “I had no choice.”

    Well, at last you got something right. :)

    “What “choice” architecture could that be, they ask with jerk of knee, that doesn’t automatically reflex unto itself?…The robots might be subject to a predetermined indeterminacy of purpose.”

    Nonsense clothed in gibberish.

  21. Adam_Yon 01 Jun 2010 at 9:16 am

    Wasn’t that long ago that a backyard mechanic with a socket wrench and a screw driver could keep a car running well.
    Good luck with that Prius, bub.

    Given how common personal modifications of the Prius are I would say the death of the backyard mechanic is a pipe dream.

  22. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2010 at 9:56 am

    Adam_Y-

    Your seem to be arguing that specialization occured a long time ago, and that the rate of technological advancement is now relatively stagnant in comparison to some undefined past. I find that to be a ridiculous argument to the point of absurd, and does not describe the world I see. We are not talking strictly engineering here, but I imagine that your assessment of that is off as well.

  23. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2010 at 10:14 am

    I must leave room for he possiblility that I am misunderstanding your point, because it seem so counter to what appears fairly obvious.

  24. sonicon 01 Jun 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Adam-Y,
    Yes there are many mods for the Prius, and it would be a shame if the backyard mechanic disappeared.
    That said, you must recognize the difference between getting the car running well with a screwdriver and your ears as compared to the type of equipment and procedures needed today. (I think that more people can do the first without much training/education than can do the latter- I believe that is the point.)

  25. James Foxon 01 Jun 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Perhaps we will have a Butlerian Jihad or an anti technology Ganges Kahn will sweep the world just in time promising freedom from the computer overlords if we just return to the pure Mongol lifestyle. Anyone want to start a Mentat school?

  26. locutusbrgon 01 Jun 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I wonder if specialization has a cultural aspect. To use Steve’s example of medicine. People expect to see a specialist, and maybe it is not needed. To some extent people, even myself, feel more secure knowing that someone has concentrated specifically in my problem’s field of study. Maybe it is not necessary.
    The contractor is another example of subtle cultural issues. Perhaps no one contractor builds a home because of legal, employment, and insurance issues. Perhaps there is an ability to build modern homes. Certainly homes built 100 years ago standing today are not greatly less complex than modern design. Some issues have little to due with complexity of technology, and more to do with liability and certification issues. Perhaps if we went to mexico, in a less structured, less regulated environment one man may build our home. It may be just as complex, safe, or functional as a home in the US.
    To what degree does cultural and legal demands play on these issues I do not pretend to know. There is certainly some evidence that it plays a role. Interesting thought exercise.

  27. bindleon 01 Jun 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Ooo, ccbowers bizarre and weird? BillyJoe7 is feeling all left out.

    Mentat school? Problem is these two have started on their own, but are taking Sappo juice in place of Sapho. The sign on the door says: Mental School, Loud and Discordant Babblers Department.

  28. RobertRappleanon 01 Jun 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Hmmm, bindle’s comments are highly reminiscent of one Markov Chainey.

    Although I agree that complexity of human life won’t necessarily increase, it will become simpler at the expense of becoming more reliant upon our machines.

    Take an auto mechanic, for instance. Thirty years ago I could disassemble and fix most systems on a car with little more than a wrench and a screwdriver. Today you can’t correctly change the oil without knowing how to interface with the computer that tracks maintenance.

    Printing is an excellent example. It was a magnificently complex activity that was very labor intensive, but every piece was accessible to a person who needed to adjust something. Today you can’t adjust the color settings on a page without the proper passwords.

    In my last position, I got a good look at a complex system that was running perpetually on the edge of the human’s ability to keep up with it. Automated systems needed to be implemented, but their dedication to “start-up” mentality prevented the investment it would take to create those systems. They were (and still are, I presume) perpetually running on the edge of failure for reasons of cost effectiveness. I suspect that many of our complex systems are in that state.

  29. Adam_Yon 01 Jun 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Your seem to be arguing that specialization occured a long time ago, and that the rate of technological advancement is now relatively stagnant in comparison to some undefined past. .

    Nope. I’m not arguing that the rate of technological advancement is stagnant. I’m arguing that the specialization occurred long ago and almost every piece of technology from the interdependence of people who have different specialties working together. Its really kind of amazing when you sit down and rationally think about.

  30. tmac57on 01 Jun 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Steve said-”It also seems that humans will, to some extent, titrate their own complexity. As technology makes our lives simpler, we find new things to do that add complexity – to the limit of our tolerance, then we search for ways to simplify again.”
    This caught my eye because of my nearly 40 years in the telecommunications world, I was able to witness 1st hand how people adjusted to the ever changing demands on their time and knowledge base. There was always a kind of resistance on the part of some employees to do the required maintenance,quality procedures,cleaning,etc. because of laziness,misunderstanding of importance, or just lack of time.As the complexity of systems evolved, it actually became less complex and time consuming for the employees.The systems took away much of the burden of actually working the problems out on your own.But, I didn’t see a proportional shift in what people were willing to take on in lieu of the burden that they were relieved of.They just, on average, tended to get more and more used to responsibilities being lifted from them.This can lead to a kind of false sense of security,until the s**t hits the fan,then all hell breaks loose,and the upper levels of management descend ,demanding to find the guilty party,who usually turns out to be several people,including their managers,vague directives,nods and winks to best practices not followed,etc. .This is an old story that many will recognize,but it also tends to be human nature. I am willing to bet that in the end,this will be the root cause of the BP spill. They probably knew exactly what they were supposed to do,they just didn’t do it.

  31. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2010 at 8:16 pm

    “Nope. I’m not arguing that the rate of technological advancement is stagnant. ”

    If that’s your argument, then I don’t necessarily disagree with that point. I don’t think you are correct overall , but for many industries the rate is probably stagnant (or even zero). But even in this scenario, specialists become more specialized over time and the problems that occur with specialization become worse. There is also the factor of new fields of technology arising. So as certain fields stagnate, others expand rapidly.

    The concepts aren’t new, but the specific problems are, and its worth talking about,

  32. David Weismanon 01 Jun 2010 at 11:01 pm

    This is a convenient truth for a conservative commentator who also has no technical expertise – like Brooks. He blames the spill on the “intricate” technologies involved. Look deeper! Look at the fact that we need to go after hard oil in 5000 feet of water. Look at the fact that we have dysfunctional regulatory agencies that didn’t mandate a backup plan!

    And let’s face it, Brooks doesn’t want to cede that the Minerals Management Service went to hell under the Bush administration due to what should really be called an “intricate” set of multi-variables: a libertarian mindset, cronyism, neglect, other priorities, and lack of accountability.

    Let’s not rationalize this to the point where there are no guilty parties other than “intricate” technologies. Yes, that’s tempting. But that’s just what BP wants. They want to make things seem as complicated as possible so we’ll give all of them a free pass. I don’t buy it. If they don’t understand it, if they can’t manage it, then they shouldn’t have drilled it. It’s that simple.

    In China there would be executions. In America we’ll have to settle for CSPAN torture.

  33. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2010 at 11:26 pm

    David Weisman-

    These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Just because we acknowledge complexity doesn’t mean that there is no fault or that this couldn’t have been prevented if things were done properly. I don’t think anyone is making this argument.

    Perhaps your point is that even raising the issue is a distraction…? I don’t know. Its still an important enough issue to address, particularly with your statement “If they don’t understand it, if they can’t manage it, then they shouldn’t have drilled it.” I think everyone would agree with that.

  34. zoe237on 02 Jun 2010 at 3:09 am

    I think the overreliance on technology to get us out of any jam is fascinating in our society. We shouldn’t have been drilling there in the first place. A poster above rightly points out that no computer or technology has ever been nor probably ever will be as complex as the human brain.

    Mostly, though, I agree with David Weisman. These people knew darn well that this could happen and their foes have been screaming about offshore drilling for years. Mostly they’re demonized as luddites, against progress. @@@

  35. eiskrystalon 02 Jun 2010 at 3:51 am

    -These people knew darn well that this could happen and their foes have been screaming about offshore drilling for years. Mostly they’re demonized as luddites, against progress.-

    We are having to do offshore drilling just to keep from regressing. All the new marvelous technology and techniques in the oil industry are simply covering up the fact that the cheap, easy oil is gone.

  36. Adam_Yon 02 Jun 2010 at 1:03 pm

    If they don’t understand it, if they can’t manage it, then they shouldn’t have drilled it. It’s that simple.

    The problem with abject conspiratorial maddness is that for all we know is that we could have thought we had a complete understanding of the issues and were wrong. Not the first time that an entire field has been changed because of an disaster born out of innocent ignorance.

    In China there would be executions. In America we’ll have to settle for CSPAN torture.

    So we have someone whining about a lack of punishment in the United States despite not knowing how the legal system works. Once you become a licensed engineer legal liability falls directly onto you but of course ANGER sometimes trumps rationality in this case.

  37. stizashellon 02 Jun 2010 at 6:08 pm

    management concerned enough with profits to cut corners on safety/security + workers with increasingly specific and less thought-provoking jobs and a smaller set of responsibilities + fewer and fewer generalists with less and less understanding of why they are important = giant self-destructing shit fest.

    excellent job on this particular post, steven. anyone who can watch wall-e and not be at least mildly bothered just isn’t paying attention.

    the entirety of this discussion is just one specific example of the pitfalls of a totalitarian capitalist society that feeds on profit and demands infinite growth and resources. lucky for us, this whole system can’t last much longer anyway, and will do away with itself for us if we can’t do it ourselves.

    tmac, the phrase “[just] human nature” is becoming one of our most dangerous enemies. we are allowing ourselves, teaching ourselves to be accepting and expecting of people still making poor choices based on instinct rather than reason.

    consciousness evolved as a trait just like anything else, and was necessarily more crude and less encompassing in the beginning than it is now. its size with respect to brain activity has become bigger and bigger; we started out only aware of existence, now we are aware of all higher level thinking and even some lower level thinking, even aware of being aware; yet here we are in a culture that assumes the size of consciousness is fixed and its battle with our instincts and emotions cannot be won.

    we would all do well to fully internalize and better understand the fact that evolutionarily speaking, our consciousness needs to either grow to engulf all brain activity or shrink back out of existence for the human species to stand any chance of finding and maintaining the natural quasi-equilibrium with our environment that all other long-surviving species have found before us.

    christianity injected into our culture the notion that consciousness is our god-given blessing and curse. any learned person would agree that this is silly, yet, culturally, we all still live by it, practically speaking.

    our way of life must shift. our minds must be changed such that advancing our own evolution is higher priority. if we leave it up to chance, we will surely kill ourselves off, just as any other species before us with a dominating prototype of a new kind of trait. we have the special opportunity to overrule natural selection, and we have so far chosen not to do so.

  38. ccbowerson 02 Jun 2010 at 6:25 pm

    “anyone who can watch wall-e and not be at least mildly bothered just isn’t paying attention.”

    Both Wall-e and Idiocracy came to mind for me.

  39. Xulldon 02 Jun 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I support PACS (Picture Archiving and communication systems) software for radiological exams. I am a generalist and a very good one when it comes to everything technological. In my role I have to be able to understand to a lesser degree every system involved and there are many different technologies involved to bring the whole system together. Faxing, report generation, dicom standard and all its various flavors, web apps, browsers, speech mics, foot pedals, scanners, printers, all of the various computer hardware and software, and how to engage with an angry customer . . . the list goes on and on.

    A jack of all that is tech and service is the only person who can take any request and get the right people involved with little delay for the end user, in this case large hospitals, trauma centers, orthopedics, radiologist ect.

    My role is one of organization, but without understanding one would be lost. I have to organize testing data, customer observations/desires, developer resources, post sales and implementations liaison . . . ect. However in order to do my job, no less be good at it, I have to possess at least a modest level of aptitude in every single role required to roll out and support a finished product, I must know who does what and learn how to either do it myself or automate it for future ease of use.

    I have techs come in and may know a piece here or there, but struggle putting the whole picture into perspective and so tend to get frustrated, or have a very steep learning curve to deal with the massive quantity of different technology platforms. Its a challenge finding the right person with the right background to really excel in this environment, its far easier to find someone who is a great specialist.

    So I think the problem is three fold:
    a) its easier to specialize
    b) its faster to specialize
    c) specialist tend to make more money.

  40. David Weismanon 02 Jun 2010 at 10:45 pm

    @ ccbowers, yes. Brooks has every ideological reason to take things in this direction and away from the simple facts here: they clearly can’t control the situation.

    @ Adam. This is going to end up with millions of barrels of oil dumped into the gulf coast waters. This was preventable. Angry doesn’t even begin to cover a proper emotional reaction. You bet I’m angry. How does that change anything? It doesn’t change the fact that the regulatory agencies hired employees from BP (Sylvia Baca). It doesn’t change the sad history of that well, which had problems as of 11 months ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/us/30rig.html?pagewanted=all

  41. BillyJoe7on 05 Jun 2010 at 3:08 am

    Xulld,

    “So I think the problem is three fold:
    a) its easier to specialize
    b) its faster to specialize
    c) specialist tend to make more money.”

    I’m going to send this to my father’s GP.

    Anecdote:
    My father attended a respiratory specialist for long term follow up of a lung condition and the specialist took it upon himself to advise him about a shoulder pain he was experiencing. After six months of no progress, he attended his GP who took a history, deduced that it had occured after a fall, and immediately diagnosed an un-united fracture of his clavicle!

  42. eeanon 08 Jun 2010 at 10:54 am

    I think the ebb and flow of complexity idea is correct.

    Like… I’m not sure software development has become more complex. While we create more complex systems, we also work on standardizing and making things more robust and easier to maintian.

    Also software developers do specialize somewhat, but its nothing compared to the medical profession of even home construction. There are C++ developers, mobile developers, but its also not uncommon for an individual to totally switch language and problem domain when changing jobs. A friend of mine has had three different jobs the past few years, and each one had an entirely different set of tools. The skills in software development are highly transferable.

    However if in 50 years from now the “software developer” is as quaint a profession as a “house builder” I wouldn’t be totally surprised.

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