The Perils of Rapid Development

As a speaker for digital dentistry, I have the good fortune of meeting dentists from all walks of life. But whether they are from super high-end conglomerate mega-clinics or a modest single-chair office in a developing nation, it is interesting to see that they are oftentimes tripped up by the same mental obstacles.

In a 1982 computer programming article by Alan Perlis, he talked about how “optimization hinders evolution”. In effect, when computer code is first materialized from an abstract concept, there are often mistakes, reparations, and redundancies. In its un-optimized state, the program can perform its function just fine, albeit not in the most efficient way.

At this point, you would think that cleaning up the code to make it go faster is a sound choice, but is it? Sometimes, with a bit of brilliant engineering, a single function can be reduced from hundreds of lines of code to a mere handful. The reason why it began at a hundred, however, was due to the gradual building-up of the programmers’ logic and making amendments as they go through the process. These are the records of their intent and and cannot be reproduced once they are optimized with hindsight.

Therefore, with optimization comes opacity. Intent and logic that are lost cannot be reused in further development, causing a further loss of motivation.

Participants in this photo are unrelated this rant.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but I am beginning to see its manifestations in how clinicians are approaching digital dentistry in our training facility. It is too often during my discussions with the participants that I get an inquiry on how to achieve a certain result, and if the solution falls short of a simple “If you want X, do Y”, people are unsatisfied. Human biology is pretty complex (I would hope) and has so many degrees of freedom that a simple answer is very rarely possible. And yet, people want the ends without trying to understand the means.

Digital dentistry exacerbates this point even further due to the rapid nature of technological advancement. History piles up very quickly, and before you know it, all that intent and ingenuity is wiped cleaned to make way for the next cycle of development. With this sort of information explosion, who has the time to keep up? And this, in my opinion, is the crux of the ever widening disconnect in communication.