Is technology effective in managing complexity?

While writing an introductory post for this week’s theme, I quickly realised I would have done nothing more but borrow words from my references. For this reason, I decided to publish here few short excerpts from the most inspiring sources I could find on the subject. I believe reading this altogether constitutes a quick but exhaustive introduction to the subject, in a brisk variety of tones. I will leave the task to be less brief to our next contributor, Ethel Baraona.


“Many aspects of the way in which human beings do complex dynamic tasks are not well understood, and the mechanisms underlying this behaviour are not adequately accounted for by current models of cognitive processes. So there is not yet a firm basis for designing to help a person doing such tasks.”

Bainbridge, Lisanne: Complex Cognition


“For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable.  We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause.”

Samuel Arbesman for


“Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.”

Douglas Bowman: Goodbye, Google


“The argument for automation is simple: machines can more reliably satisfy a small set of tasks because that’s all they have to do. […] Ten years ago, economists felt confident that undertakings like negotiating a turn against traffic or deciphering scrawled handwriting couldn’t be done by machines. We now know that they can—and this ability is derived from Big Data.
To routinize a task, all that’s required is an accurate algorithm. This has been the case since the Industrial Revolution, when the personalized efforts of artisans were reduced to smaller, highly specialized sequences, requiring less skill, but more workers. Today a job is “routine” if it can be translated into code that machines can read.”

Brendan McGetrick for Harvard Design Magazine


“I like you, Dan, I really do. You’ve been the face of this company for many years, overseeing a period of unprecedented net growth. And on a more personal level, you’ve become a dear friend. Heck, our wives attend spin class together twice a week! But unfortunately, friendship only means so much in today’s cutthroat business environment. We —that is, the board and I— have poured over every possible budgetary alteration, and we just can’t conceive of a scenario in which retaining your services makes logistical sense. All the research we’ve conducted behind your back over the last three years suggests that the position of chief executive officer for our multi-billion dollar corporation can be more efficiently performed by a robot.”

Erik Cofer for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency