Is every healthy child a potential prodigy? ... Before Laszlo Polgár conceived his children, before he even met his wife, he knew he was going to raise geniuses. He’d started to write a book about it. He saw it moves ahead. ... By their first meeting, a dinner and walk around Budapest in 1965, Laszlo told Klara, his future bride, how his kids’ education would go. He had studied the lives of geniuses and divined a pattern: an adult singularly focused on the child’s success. He’d raise the kids outside school, with intense devotion to a subject, though he wasn’t sure what. "Every healthy child," as he liked to say, "is a potential genius." Genetics and talent would be no obstacle. And he’d do it with great love. ... Computers have long since outclassed humans in chess; they’re vital in training, but their recommended moves can seem quixotic. "No, it’s very human," Polgár assured them. The students, most of them grandmasters, grew quiet, searching the more than 100,000 positional situations they had ingrained over their lifetimes, exploring possible moves and the future problems they implied — moving down the decision tree. It’s the knot at the heart of chess: Each turn, you must move; when you move, a world of potential vanishes. ... "It’s important to look at top performers to look at the limits of human abilities — the maximum adaptations people can undergo." By looking to the best, we can understand the rest.
This problem has a name: the paradox of automation. It applies in a wide variety of contexts, from the operators of nuclear power stations to the crew of cruise ships, from the simple fact that we can no longer remember phone numbers because we have them all stored in our mobile phones, to the way we now struggle with mental arithmetic because we are surrounded by electronic calculators. The better the automatic systems, the more out-of-practice human operators will be, and the more extreme the situations they will have to face. ... The paradox of automation, then, has three strands to it. First, automatic systems accommodate incompetence by being easy to operate and by automatically correcting mistakes. Because of this, an inexpert operator can function for a long time before his lack of skill becomes apparent – his incompetence is a hidden weakness that can persist almost indefinitely. Second, even if operators are expert, automatic systems erode their skills by removing the need for practice. Third, automatic systems tend to fail either in unusual situations or in ways that produce unusual situations, requiring a particularly skilful response. A more capable and reliable automatic system makes the situation worse. ... The rarer the exception gets, as with fly-by-wire, the less gracefully we are likely to deal with it. We assume that the computer is always right, and when someone says the computer made a mistake, we assume they are wrong or lying. ... For all the power and the genuine usefulness of data, perhaps we have not yet acknowledged how imperfectly a tidy database maps on to a messy world. We fail to see that a computer that is a hundred times more accurate than a human, and a million times faster, will make 10,000 times as many mistakes. ... If you occasionally need human skill at short notice to navigate a hugely messy situation, it may make sense to artificially create smaller messes, just to keep people on their toes.