Book Review: Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman

Cover of the book Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman
Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension
by Samuel Arbesman
Current, 2016

This review was first published by Booklist on July 7, 2016.

Modern technology has become so complex that even experts can no longer understand technological systems in all their parts and workings. It frequently feels like we’re losing control of our own technological creations. Technology often behaves in ways that appear mysterious to us, the causes of effects too difficult to tease from the tangle. Arbesman explores this complexity and the limits of our ability to comprehend truly intricate systems and offers a strategy for better understanding. He argues that such complications are inevitable and that the evolution of our technology is best understood as a quasi-biological process. Biological thinking allows us to approach technological complexity in a more useful and holistic way and to accept the limits of our ability to understand it. What stands out most is Arbesman’s compelling hopefulness for the future. Caution in the face of our technology is understandable, but there’s no reason to be afraid of it. Technology can sometimes seem miraculous—yet that’s no reason to worship it. This book aims to offer us a better way forward.

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