Navigating Technology at the Limits of Comprehension

Samuel Arbesman

From the power grid to the stock market to the latest iOS, complex systems are plagued by unintended glitches, unpredictable behavior, and unexplainable system failures. Why can’t we make things simpler? Is technological complexity inevitable? And how are we supposed to deal with technology that nobody can understand anymore?

Complexity scientist Samuel Arbesman explores the forces that lead us to continue to make systems more complicated and more incomprehensible, despite our desperate desire for them to be more coherent. He offers a new framework for dealing with complex systems, taking the audience on a journey of increasing technological complexity and the new types of thinking we will need in this Age of Incomprehensibility.

This keynote lecture provides participants with an overview of the different forces that lead all of our technologies towards ever more complexity, as well as a practical orientation for thinking about and handling these systems. This framework can be applied to any large system, from computer systems to regulatory codes. A Q&A is provided at the end of the keynote.

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Samuel Arbesman is a complexity scientist, whose work focuses on the nature of scientific and technological change. He is Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital, a science and technology venture capital firm. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado and Research Fellow at the Long Now Foundation.

Arbesman is the author of the award-winning The Half-Life of Facts (Current/Penguin, 2012), which explores how knowledge changes over time. His newest book, Overcomplicated, is being published in July 2016 and is about technology at the limits of comprehension.

Previously, Arbesman was a Senior Scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. He completed a PhD in computational biology at Cornell University in 2008, and earned a BA in computer science and biology at Brandeis University in 2004.

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Navigating Technology at the Limits of Comprehension