SPOS #924 – Coco Krumme On The Illusion Of Optimization

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Welcome to episode #924 of Six Pixels of Separation – The ThinkersOne Podcast.

Here it is: Six Pixels of Separation – The ThinkersOne Podcast – Episode #924. In her new book, Optimal Illusions – The False Promise of Optimization, Coco Krumme embarks on a compelling journey to unravel the influence of optimization in our society. Coco’s diverse pursuits – from running a craft distillery on a rural island to making sculptures and flying a small airplane – give her analysis a unique perspective (far removed from the standard academic fare on the subject). With that, she is an applied mathematician with an impressive background, including a Ph.D. from MIT and significant experience in academia and tech. Optimization, a principle initially rooted in mathematical theory, has dramatically reshaped our world. It dictates everything from the efficiency of airline schedules to the algorithmic matches on dating sites to how we figure out our best days. Optimal Illusions is a fascinating read, as Coco explores the history of optimization, highlighting its journey from America’s founding principles to its application by oil tycoons, wildlife ecologists, Silicon Valley technocrats, lifestyle gurus, and beyond. This exploration reveals a complexity where the quest for efficiency – while yielding undeniable benefits – has also led to significant trade-offs, compromising resilience, limiting options, and narrowing perspectives. Coco’s work in scientific computation provides her with an intimate understanding of the pitfalls of optimization’s reach. She argues that while optimization may offer short-term gains in efficiency, it ultimately fosters a society that is less adaptable and more homogenous. The book challenges readers to consider the hidden costs of optimization – from the erosion of human creativity and flexibility to the potential for creating systems that are fragile and prone to failure. For anyone intrigued by the intersection of technology, society, and human behavior, this episode is for you. Enjoy the conversation…


  • 00:00 – The Definition of Optimization
  • 04:50 – The Negative Perception of Optimization
  • 06:18 – Losses Caused by Optimization
  • 10:05 – Figuring Things Out for Oneself
  • 16:18 – Optimization Pre-Pandemic and Post-Pandemic
  • 23:56 – Balancing Discipline and Optimization
  • 26:48 – The Opposite of Optimization
  • 28:50 – Teaching Kids about Optimization
  • 36:08 – The Impact of Artificial Intelligence
  • 45:00 – The Potential of AI and the Skepticism
  • 55:35 – The Power of Optimal Illusions
  • 56:35 – The Perito Moreno Glacier Experience

Download the Podcast here: Six Pixels of Separation – The ThinkersOne Podcast – Episode #924.

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