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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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May 14, 2018

One of the great promises of the Internet and big data revolutions is the idea that we can improve the processes and routines of our work and personal lives to get more done in less time than we ever have before. Technology has enabled a widespread increase of efficiency-enhancing  algorithms, multitasking, a sharing economy, and life hacks, and has led our society to perform at higher levels and move at unprecedented speed. But Edward Tenner—distinguished scholar of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation—asks: what if we’re headed in the wrong direction?

Tenner joined Town Hall’s Executive Director Wier Harman onstage for a study of the long-term history of technology and the latest headlines and findings of computer science and social science. Sharing wisdom from his book The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can’t Do, Tenner questioned our ingrained assumptions about efficiency and examines whether relying on the algorithms of digital platforms can in fact lead to wasted efforts, missed opportunities, and above all an inability to break out of established patterns. Join Tenner and Harman for a conversation on smarter ways of thinking about efficiency, and what we and our institutions can learn from the random and unexpected when equipped with an astute combination of artificial intelligence and trained intuition.

Edward Tenner is a distinguished scholar of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and a visiting scholar in the Rutgers University Department of History. He was a visiting lecturer at the Humanities Council at Princeton, and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Pennsylvania. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Wilson Quarterly, and, and he has given talks for many organizations, including Microsoft, AT&T, the National Institute on White Collar Crime, the Smithsonian Associates, and TED. He is the author of the book Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, written in part with a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Recorded live at Fr. LeRoux Conference Center by Town Hall Seattle on Thursday, May 3, 2018.