Should Engineers Start Thinking Like Field Biologists?

Samuel Arbesman has some radical ideas for coping with complexity

3 min read
Opening illustration for Reflections department page.

Opening illustration for Reflections department page.Illustration: Dan Page

I enjoyed Samuel Arbesman’s first book,The Half-Life of Facts, which was a discussion of the exponential pace of change, as exemplified by Moore’s Law, among other things. When I saw the title of his new book,Overcomplicated, I assumed that it would be a warning that we technologists had gone too far in creating complex systems. It would advocate moving to simpler systems, just as a doctor might advise an overweight person to go on a diet. I was prepared to argue against such a conclusion, but as I discovered upon reading the book, Arbesman does not say that complexity is necessarily bad or that we should seek simplicity. Instead, he maintains that systems are now unknowably complex, that they will become even more so, and we should…just get over it.

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Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

His pivot from defense helped a tiny tuning-fork prevent SUV rollovers and plane crashes

11 min read
Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat at the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a variety of sensor and inertial-navigation devices, but its customers were less varied—mainly, the aerospace and defense electronics industries.

And he had a problem.

The Cold War had ended, crashing the U.S. defense industry. And business wasn’t going to come back anytime soon. BEI needed to identify and capture new customers—and quickly.

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