NYT – What Silicon Valley Could Use More Of: Inefficiency


Book Review in NYT … haven’t read book, but it’s on my reading list and will update this blog entry with more info when done. “The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can’t Do”, Edward Tenner https://www.amazon.com/Efficiency-Paradox-What-Data-Cant/dp/1400041392

  • While Silicon Valley’s leaders are making platforms, apps and algorithms to create maximum efficiency in life and when it comes to their own families and developing their own businesses, they have a different sense of what it takes to learn and innovate —
    • a slow, indirect process, meandering not running, allowing for failure and serendipity, even boredom
  • In 1911, English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that “civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”
  • To create a product or service that is truly efficient often involves a lot of inefficiency
  • gadgets built with a single-minded focus on efficiency can often backfire, subverting their purpose
  • smartphones untether us from the office but also allow our lives to be interrupted nearly 24 hours a day
  • Edward Tenner writes in “The Efficiency Paradox,” “we sometimes need to be reminded of the obvious.” 
  • Tenner has made a career worrying about unintended consequences – for every three steps forward, he sees the two steps back
  • “Silicon Valley’s mistake is not in developing efficient algorithms from which we all benefit, but in encouraging the illusion that algorithms can and should function in the absence of human skills.”
  • Tenner looks at four sectors in which “intuition, skill and experience” have been effectively crushed by “big data, algorithms and efficiency”: media and culture, education, transportation and medicine.
  • Examples include
    • Search algorithms have extended the ability to find scientific journal articles and books dating to the 19th century – however one sociologist in studying citations in 35 million scientific journal articles from before and after the invention of the internet, researchers, using to search algorithms’
      • have a tendency to generate self-reinforcing feedback loops
      • paying more attention to fewer papers
      • pay more attention to the more recent and popular papers
      • thus strengthening rather than bucking prevailing trends
    • GPS
      • if you need more context for understanding your surroundings, it’s fairly useless.
      • Avoiding dangerous or traffic-clogged routes (though googlemaps sure seems to being doing very well on this item)
    • electronic medical records and electronic prescribing 
      • full of detailed codes 
      • endless categories and subcategories
      • for every hour doctors spent with patients, two hours were given over to filling out paperwork
  • “Analog experience can enhance digital efficacy,”
  • “Analog experience can enhance digital efficacy,”
    • spend more time in the physical world
    • We need to get a little lost, pursue “productive and instructive disorientation, distraction, wild-goose chases, dead ends.”
    • Instant gratification (fromt digital tech) has dulled our senses
  •  the tools we’ve invented to improve our lives are just that, tools, to be picked up and put down

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