The Call for Technological Humility

Maciej Cegłowski runs pinboard, a fantastic and fantastically simple bookmarking site (it’s what I use to power the interesting links sidebar section of this site). He’s also a level-headed, funny, and cogent writer on software and technology. From the transcript of his recent talk on the moral economy of tech:

But as anyone who’s worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

This hubris reminds me of many of the physicians, especially those described in Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Emperor of Maladies (which I finally got around to reading and is excellent). William Halstead was a brilliant surgeon who tried and unabashedly failed to treat metastatic cancer with ever more radical surgery, sure, but then you have Ben Carson going from talented surgeon to laughable failed politician.

Intellectual and technical gifts are wonderful, but then it becomes easy for people to not only overstate their own prowess but to mistakenly believe that their competency applies undiminished to disparate fields. (Of course this doesn’t apply to me, only other people).

Great read.

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