B1 Intermediate US 45 Folder Collection
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Who doesn't love efficiency?
I do.
Efficiency means more for less.
More miles per gallon, more light per watt,
more words per minute.
More for less is the next best thing
to something for nothing.
Algorithms, big data, the cloud are giving us more for less.
Are we heading toward a friction-free utopia
or toward a nightmare of surveillance?
I don't know.
My interest is in the present.
And I'd like to show you
how the past can help us understand the present.
There's nothing that summarizes
both the promise and the danger of efficiency
like the humble potato.
The potato originated in the Andes
and it spread to Europe from the ancient Inca.
The potato is a masterpiece of balanced nutrition.
And it had some very powerful friends.
King Frederick the Great of Prussia
was the first enthusiast.
He believed that the potato could help
increase the population of healthy Prussians.
And the more healthy Prussians,
the more healthy Prussian soldiers.
And some of those healthy Prussian soldiers
captured a French military pharmacist named Parmentier.
Parmentier, at first, was appalled
by the morning, noon and night diet
fed to POWs of potatoes,
but he came to enjoy it.
He thought they were making him a healthier person.
And so, when he was released,
he took it on himself to spread the potato to France.
And he had some powerful friends.
Benjamin Franklin advised him to hold a banquet,
at which every dish included potatoes.
And Franklin was a guest of honor.
Even the king and queen of France
were persuaded to wear potatoes,
potato flowers, pardon me.
The king wore a potato flower in his lapel,
and the queen wore a potato flower in her hair.
That was a truly great public relations idea.
But there was a catch.
The potato was too efficient for Europe's good.
In Ireland, it seemed a miracle.
Potatoes flourished, the population grew.
But there was a hidden risk.
Ireland's potatoes were genetically identical.
They were a very efficient breed, called the Lumper.
And the problem with the Lumper
was that a blight from South America
that affected one potato
would affect them all.
Britain's exploitation and callousness played a role,
but it was because of this monoculture
that a million people died
and another two million were forced to emigrate.
A plant that was supposed to end famine
created one of the most tragic ones.
The problems of efficiency today
are less drastic but more chronic.
They can also prolong the evils
that they were intended to solve.
Take the electronic medical records.
It seemed to be the answer to the problem of doctors' handwriting,
and it had the benefit
of providing much better data for treatments.
In practice, instead, it has meant
much more electronic paperwork
and physicians are now complaining that they have less,
rather than more time to see patients individually.
The obsession with efficiency can actually make us less efficient.
Efficiency also bites back with false positives.
Hospitals have hundreds of devices registering alarms.
Too often, they're crying wolf.
It takes time to rule those out.
And that time results in fatigue, stress and, once more,
the neglect of the problems of real patients.
There are also false positives in pattern recognition.
A school bus, viewed from the wrong angle,
can resemble a punching bag.
So precious time is required
to eliminate misidentification.
False negatives are a problem, too.
Algorithms can learn a lot -- fast.
But they can tell us only about the past.
So many future classics get bad reviews, like "Moby Dick,"
or are turned down by multiple publishers,
like the "Harry Potter" series.
It can be wasteful to try to avoid all waste.
Efficiency is also a trap when the opposition copies it.
Take the late 19th-century
French 75-millimeter artillery piece.
It was a masterpiece of lethal design.
This piece could fire a shell every four seconds.
But that wasn't so unusual.
What was really brilliant was that because of the recoil mechanism,
it could return to the exact same position
without having to be reaimed.
So the effective rate of firing was drastically increased.
Now, this seemed to be a way for France
to defeat Germany the next time they fought.
But, predictably, the Germans were working
on something very similar.
So when the First World War broke out,
the result was the trench warfare
that lasted longer than anybody had expected.
A technology that was designed to shorten the war, prolonged it.
The biggest cost of all may be missed opportunities.
The platform economy connecting buyers and sellers
can be a great investment,
and we have seen that in the last few weeks.
Companies that are still losing hundreds of millions of dollars
may be creating billionaires with initial public offerings.
But the really difficult inventions
are the physical and chemical ones.
They mean bigger risks.
They may be losing out, because hardware is hard.
It's much harder to scale up a physical or chemical invention
than it is a software-based invention.
Think of batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries in portable devices and electric cars
are based on a 30-year-old principle.
How many smartphone batteries today
will last a full day on a single charge?
Yes, hardware is hard.
It took over 20 years for the patent
on the principle of dry photocopying,
by Chester Carlson in 1938,
to result in the Xerox 914 copier introduced in 1959.
The small, brave company, Haloid in Rochester, NY
had to go through what most corporations would never have tolerated.
There was one failure after another,
and one of the special problems was fire.
In fact, when the 914 was finally released,
it still had a device that was called a scorch eliminator
but actually it was a small fire extinguisher built in.
My answer to all these questions is: inspired inefficiency.
Data and measurement are essential, but they're not enough.
Let's leave room for human intuition and human skills.
There are seven facets of inspired inefficiency.
First, take the scenic route, say yes to serendipity.
Wrong turns can be productive.
Once, when I was exploring the east bank of the Mississippi,
I took the wrong turn.
I was approaching a toll bridge crossing the great river,
and the toll collector said I could not turn back.
So I paid my 50 cents -- that's all it was at the time --
and I was in Muscatine, Iowa.
I had barely heard of Muscatine,
but it proved to be a fascinating place.
Muscatine had some of the world's richest mussel beds.
A century ago, a third of the world's buttons
were produced in Muscatine,
1.5 billion a year.
The last plants have closed now,
but there is still a museum of the pearl button industry
that's one of the most unusual in the world.
But buttons were only the beginning.
This is the house in Muscatine
where China's future president stayed in 1986,
as a member of an agricultural delegation.
It is now the Sino-US Friendship House,
and it's a pilgrimage site for Chinese tourists.
How could I have foreseen that?
Second, get up from the couch.
Sometimes it can be more efficient
to do things the hard way.
Consider the internet of things.
It's wonderful to be able to control lights,
set the thermostat, even vacuum the room
without leaving one's seat.
But medical research has shown
that actually fidgeting, getting up, walking around
is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
It's good for the heart and the waistline.
Third, monetize your mistakes.
Great forms can be created
by imaginative development of accidents.
Tad Leski, an architect of the Metropolitan Opera
at Lincoln Center,
was working on a sketch and some white ink fell on the drawing.
Other people might just have thrown it away,
but Leski was inspired to produce a starburst chandelier
that was probably the most notable of its kind of the 20th century.
Fourth, sometimes try the hard way.
It can be more efficient to be less fluent.
Psychologists call this desirable difficulty.
Taking detailed notes with a keyboard
would seem to be the best way to grasp what a lecturer is saying,
to be able to review it verbatim.
However, studies have shown that when we have to abbreviate,
when we have to summarize what a speaker is saying,
when we're taking notes with a pen or a pencil on paper,
we're processing that information.
We're making that our own,
and we are learning much more actively
than when we were just transcribing
what was being said.
Fifth, get security through diversity.
Monoculture can be deadly.
Remember the potato?
It was efficient until it wasn't.
Diversity applies to organizations, too.
Software can tell what has made people in an organization succeed in the past.
And it's useful, sometimes, in screening employees.
But remember, the environment is constantly changing,
and software, screening software, has no way to tell,
and we have no way to tell,
who is going to be useful in the future.
So, we need to supplement whatever the algorithm tells us
by an intuition and by looking for people
with various backgrounds and various outlooks.
Sixth, achieve safety through redundancy and human skills.
Why did two 737 Max aircraft crash?
We still don't know the full story,
but we know how to prevent future tragedies.
We need multiple independent systems.
If one fails, then the others can override it.
We also need skilled operators to come to the rescue
and that means constant training.
Seventh, be rationally extravagant.
Thomas Edison was a pioneer of the film industry,
as well as of camera technology.
Nobody has done more for efficiency than Thomas Edison.
But his cost cutting broke down.
His manager hired a so-called efficiency engineer,
who advised him to save money
by using more of the film stock that he'd shot,
having fewer retakes.
Well, Edison was a genius,
but he didn't understand the new rules of feature films
and the fact that failure was becoming the price of success.
On the other hand, some great directors, like Erich Von Stroheim,
were the opposite.
They were superb dramatists,
and Stroheim was also a memorable actor.
But they couldn't live within their budgets.
So that was not sustainable.
It was Irving Thalberg, a former secretary with intuitive genius,
who achieved rational extravagance.
First at Universal, and then at MGM,
becoming the ideal of the Hollywood producer.
Summing up, to be truly efficient,
we need optimal inefficiency.
The shortest path may be a curve
rather than a straight line.
Charles Darwin understood that.
When he encountered a tough problem,
he made a circuit of a trail,
the sandwalk that he'd built behind his house.
A productive path can be physical, like Darwin's,
or a virtual one, or an unforeseen detour
from a path we had laid out.
Too much efficiency can weaken itself.
But a bit of inspired inefficiency can strengthen it.
Sometimes, the best way to move forward
is to follow a circle.
Thank you.
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【TED】Edward Tenner: The paradox of efficiency (The paradox of efficiency | Edward Tenner)

45 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on January 10, 2020
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