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Overcomplicated

Technology at the Limits of Comprehension
Narrated by: Sean Pratt
Length: 4 hrs and 35 mins
Categories: Business, Leadership
4 out of 5 stars (114 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Why did the New York Stock Exchange suspend trading without warning on July 8, 2015? Why did certain Toyota vehicles accelerate uncontrollably against the will of their drivers? Why does the programming inside our airplanes occasionally surprise its creators?

After a thorough analysis by the top experts, the answers still elude us.

You don't understand the software running your car or your iPhone. But here's a secret: Neither do the geniuses at Apple or the PhDs at Toyota - not perfectly, anyway. No one - not lawyers, doctors, accountants, or policy makers - fully grasps the rules governing your tax return, your retirement account, or your hospital's medical machinery. The same technological advances that have simplified our lives have made the systems governing our lives incomprehensible, unpredictable, and overcomplicated.

In Overcomplicated, complexity scientist Samuel Arbesman offers a fresh, insightful field guide to living with complex technologies that defy human comprehension. As technology grows more complex, Arbesman argues, its behavior mimics the vagaries of the natural world more than it conforms to a mathematical model. If we are to survive and thrive in this new age, we must abandon our need for governing principles and rules and accept the chaos. By embracing and observing the freak accidents and flukes that disrupt our lives, we can gain valuable clues about how our algorithms really work. What's more, we will become better thinkers, scientists, and innovators as a result.

Lucid and energizing, this audiobook is a vital new analysis of the world heralded as "modern" for anyone who wants to live wisely.

©2016 Samuel Arbesman (P)2016 Gildan Media LLC

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Original perspective

A book that challenges my view of studying and developing complex, interconnected technological systems, through a somewhat original and refreshing erspective.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Absolutely Useless. What a waste of time.

What disappointed you about Overcomplicated?

The author, despite being a "complexity expert" seems utterly unable (or uninterested) to answer the big questions: 1. How much of a problem--other than "wow! really big and scary!" is it that complexity grows exponentially in the modern world, and 2. What techniques can be used to combat it?

Famously, he uses the debunked "Toyota unintentional acceleration" scare as one of his key points that "Gee, things have gotten so complex that _nobody_ fully understands why things happen in systems like this." Similarly, he constantly lectures from either anecdote or example, quoting science columnists or opinion leads for data instead of actual science or research. Where he does offer "statistical" data, beyond "just lots and lots", it usually devolves into the form of "Well, if you assume multiplied by " you get ". Never mind whether either such number exists in the original example being talked about, or whether there might be other factors which limit the growth of the resulting complexity in the model.

He is constantly using false analogies--bordering on non-sequitors--to make his points, and seems allergic to both quoting any actual scientific study or... you know... numbers. Instead, he'll make points by saying that a given psychological phenomena is "just like that Vorhees story" without ever quoting actual research to establish either the extent or effect of it.

Maddeningly, to anyone who actually knows anything about computes and programming, he's also inordinately fond of making "tech-sounding" metaphors while simultaneously pointing to such ridiculously outmoded concepts as "Goto" statements to point out why programs are getting so hard to decipher. I could go on for ages, but I feel like this book has wasted enough of my life already.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Good for a less technical audience

As a consultant software developer and quality analyst, very little of this was new to me. I've been complaining for years that most systems I encounter are held together with spit and bailing wire. But this would be great for my dad and brother, who have a deep, awed reverence for technology and have very little understanding for the rickety complexity underneath the shiny exterior. I've also been bothered by the increasing specialization that I see all around me so it was nice to hear why generalism is useful and how to educate people to be better generalists.
The performance was ok, but the constant dramatic pauses were irritating.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Not in depth enough...

The narrative had more in common with a thesis proposal than a meaningful discussion of the premise. The logic the author uses generates what appears to be a few initially interesting questions, but an overall failure to deliver on the critical debate reveals them to be superficial constructs. Even the basic premise of living in a world too complex to understand falls apart when the author's logic is applied ad nauseam. The explanations and rules for assessing why current technology is "over-complicated" while previous technology is not are not consistent or sound. Unfortunately the premise reeks a little of techno-/historical- infantilism imagining that our ancestors are their comprehension of their tools was somehow simple and universal. A topic like this should have included some fairly overt rigor and analysis, but none was presented.

In short: pop-music superficial musings meets techno-philosophy.

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Left me wanting a bit more out of it

The examples presented in the book were fascinating, and certainly makes you rethink approaching complex systems (which are everywhere). However, I was hoping for a bit more conclusions as to mental models and approaches to take regarding complex systems. The book does go into biological and physics approaches to thinking about complex systems but I wish the insights here were a bit more.

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Simply Great

One of the best books on applied complexity; that is applying complexity and complex systems theory (a highly abstract field) in ways the evaluate and explain the chaos of the modern worlds we live in.

A truly great book with practical implications for anyone who works with systems of any types. As an IT administrator, I could only nod my head knowingly as the author discussed the dual tendencies of accretion (adding to systems over time) and interconnectedness (the web of dependencies and interactions that link all the various parts of a system into a cohesive whole, which inevitably lead to complexity and incomprehensibility.

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Well written, and enlightening

I love the flow and the information this book provides. I will listen again to catch anything I might have missed. As a programmer I thought it was just my company that had old complicated technology, but I guess the world is full of it!

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Not sure if I fully agree but worth listening

Would you listen to Overcomplicated again? Why?

Not the type of book you'd read again.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Overcomplicated?

The idea that we should approach complex technology with a similar approach to biology.

Which character – as performed by Sean Pratt – was your favorite?

not applicable

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

...no

Any additional comments?

I was going to give this 4 stars but after thinking about it some more I decided it deserved 5.

The book does not make any exaggerations. Although it was a quick read, it gets you thinking about how we're headed towards a world in which increasingly fewer people understand.