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Author wants readers to embrace technology in new book

In “Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension,” author Sam Arbesman wants his readers to develop a friendship with the technology they experience in everyday life, even though most of us do not understand how it works.

 

That’s OK, says the Overland Park author and scientist. The designers who created these technologies from iPhones to computers in our cars don’t either — not entirely, he said.  

Instead of feeling fear or frustration that technology is beyond our grasp of understanding, Arbesman wants us to take pride and pleasure in all things technological. You don’t have to fully understand how something works to enjoy its application and use, he said. It’s OK to understand it in bits and pieces.

“We need to use the perspective of the Yiddish term, naches, with things we might not fully understand. We can take pride in them,” Arbesman said. 

Arbesman spent two years writing “Overcomplicated,” which is his second book. His first book, “The Half-Life of Facts — Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date,” investigates how knowledge changes over time.

“Overcomplicated,” written for general audiences, premiered on July 19. The book, published by Penguin, is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble (online and in stores) and most places where books are sold. The cost for the Kindle e-book is $11.99 and the hardcover edition is $9.99 – $14.74. Various generations may grasp something different from the book, Arbesman said. For instance, younger adults may enjoy learning about the evolution of technology and how we got here, where older adults may gain a comfort level and better understanding of technology.  

It is for people who are trying to understand technology in their lives and in their businesses.

“Our technology is becoming more and more complex over time,” Arbesman said. “We are on this trajectory where our technologies are incomprehensible, including for the people that built this technology.”

From software and medical devices to urban infrastructure, our legal system and medical records, technology is increasingly powerful, Arbesman says. 

“They are very sophisticated,” Arbesman said. “We no longer understand all the implications of these technologies. I am positive and optimistic. I think there are ways to meet technology halfway. I lay out some of these things.”

Arbesman, named as one of the first 18 under 40 by the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, says “Overcomplicated” has been reviewed favorably by The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, New Scientist and Scientific American.   

“It’s been gratifying that people see my argument,” he said.  

A scientist in residence at Lux Capital, Arbesman loves to fuse science and business. As a scientist in a venture capital firm, he looks at venture capitalist financial companies to invest in and helps with the portfolio companies. He examines the landscape of science and technology to push the company further into time. 

“I connect with people who are involved in those ideas and make sure we are really on the frontier of the future,” he said. “We invest in startups involved in merging ideas of science and technology. My role is to dig into a lot of that, talking to scientists and technologists and to think about what that means. It’s a lot of fun.”

Arbesman grew up in Buffalo, New York. He did his post-doctoral training in Boston before moving to Kansas City with his wife five years ago to work for the Kauffman Foundation as a senior scholar and researcher. He joined Lux Capital in 2015. Arbesman is also a senior fellow of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado and a research fellow at the Long Now Foundation. He is actively involved in the local Orthodox Jewish community, specifically with his shul, BIAV. He volunteers at BIAV and recently served on the strategic planning committee of the Hyman Bran Hebrew Academy. He is on the board of the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and the advisory board of the Media Archaeology Lab at the University of Colorado. Arbesman is also the father of two young children. 

“The Kansas City Jewish community is wonderful,” he said. “Everyone is very warm and inviting.”