Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

System Efficiency vs. Fragility

I just listened to Padmasree Warrior on a Commonwealth Club podcast. Ms Warrior is the chief strategy officer at Cisco. The podcast contains lots of interesting insights and projections (as well as some incorrect statements, specifically that Google was the first search engine company and capitalized on a first-mover advantage). With Cisco being about all things interconnected, she jokingly suggested that at some point in time, every human being could have an unambiguous ID, e.g. an IP address. This would simplify life so much given all the password problems we are having.

Privacy concerns aside, this vision is also difficult from an engineering perspective. Ms Warrior’s thrust is the idea of efficiency. So many things would become so much easier if every human being was unambiguously identifiable. We could build better, faster, cheaper technology and advance humanity through it. However, efficiency breeds fragility. When we look at how humanity got where it is today, I see an abundant amount of redundancy that creates robustness. Taking out redundancy will make things much less robust, as we are creating single points of failure.

I see the value of unambiguous identification but not through intrinsic properties attached to humans. There must be other, better solutions, that don’t make our world more fragile than it already is.

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