I always felt the visits to Q’s lab were the best part of Bond movies. When other boys dreamt of being secret agents, I wanted to help churn out crafty new inventions.
In a funny way, that dream has come true.
I spent the other evening with twenty-something researchers all working on what’s referred to in the industry as deeptech.
The term refers to a type of invention where exceptional amounts of research and development is required before the market can be reached. That means the risks are high, but the potential rewards can also be monumental.
Examples can include working on brain-computer interfaces, or using DNA to store binary data, or coming up with novel types of computer architectures that promise to solve whole new classes of problems.
While it’s a privilege beyond words to have a day job where one gets to be a small part of seeing ideas like these slowly move out of the labs, it often comes at the price of feeling… let’s say intellectually lacking.
I had begun thinking of this as an inevitable occupational hazard when a funny thing happened.
I was minding my own business, sorting soiled coffee cups after that session I mentioned, when a friend came idling down the corridor with a big smile on his face. He had been one of the inventors who had just presented their ideas, and now he was laughing, shaking his head in amazement. This is what he said to me:
– Bloody hell, how is it possible that you manage to get so many smart people under the same roof?! *Everyone* in there were just absolute geniuses! I mean the ideas they were working on made me feel like a complete schmuck!
And that made me laugh.
Because this particular person has to be one of the smartest people I know. The software he’s writing seem to have been conjured up by some sort of black magic.
And he’s feeling dumb!
It made me think of the Dunning-Kruger effect, you know the type of cognitive bias that mean people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of a task or area of knowledge, tend to overestimate their own knowledge.
I’m thinking that should be extended to also say that:
No matter your actual intelligence, spending time with people who are consistently smarter than you are, will eventually make you feel less smart than you really are.