January 14, 2005

Masking Complexity

Just yesterday I was talking to Thimmaiah and Ganesh about technological progress and how the real job of technology is to hide complexity from the end users. Arthur C Clarke was right when he said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

For example: look at the electric three pin socket. How many of us are aware of what happens in the backend? All we know is that we plug into the socket and our machines work. Even if there were a phenomenal breakthrough in electricity transmission, the average person out on the streets would probably remain blissfully unaware. That is exactly what technology does; it masks complexity.

A beautiful example of this on the web is Google. Google hides all its complexity hidden behind a deceptively simple white page that has just a logo, a search box and two buttons. To get a feel for the complex issues behind running something like Google, check out this talk by Google's vice-president of engineering Urs Hölzle.

He talks in detail about the problems they face, the processes they use, their commodity hardware, the scalability issues and other challenges.

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