Average and Smart Software

March 31, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumbNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

I by pure serendipity clicked on a link to an essay called in true click-bait style “The Age of Average.” Snappy, eh?

The article by Alex Murrell presents compelling examples of “good enough.” Illustrations and explanations elaborate the idea; for example:

  • AirBnB interiors look similar for up-scale listings
  • Cities look the same
  • American apartments … the same
  • Automobiles … yep.

Other examples reinforce the point: Average, good enough, the big middle, blah.

My team and I have noticed several characteristics about the outputs of smart software.

  • Illustrations of clowns … similar
  • Explanations of technical concepts … like cheating college freshman in a dorm
  • Video outputs … mirrors of sample clips from low-ball video editing programs.

Good enough? Absolutely. Original, delightful, surprising, and innovative?

No, more like meh.

The buzz about Elon Musk and other luminaries sounding alarms about smart software are in my opinion “good enough.”

What’s this “good enough” revolution say about innovation in 2023? Here are my preliminary thoughts:

  • Me too products like smart software applied to a calendar are interesting but what? Certainly not innovative and not useful to me. This dinobaby uses a paper calendar, and it works well.
  • Calls to stop development because of fear that the technology will lead to the end of the world tell me something about those advocating absolutist behavior. Yeah, that is going to work well today.
  • The lemming like behavior, which if Mr. Murrell’s argument is to be believed, is innate. The idea is that we are more alike than different is troubling. Everyone gets a ribbon, Mr. Murrell, even losers in the sixth grade relay race.

Net net: I am troubled by the notion of “good enough.” Whether innate or imposed by existing cultural or technical forces, progress is a result of the exception. “Good enough” means that the unique is unacceptable. What’s more frightening, smart software that suggests a search result or a loss of outlier thinking?

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2023


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