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Google’s Peter Norvig on “Errors, why Google buys cheap computers” and More

Google entered this world in 1998. Peter Norvig joined Google in 2001 and, from 2002 to 2005, served as director of search quality. Below, are some quotes from his talk with Slate — how engineers think about error, what’s good about failing fast, and why Google buys cheap computers.

“[…]If you’re a politician, admitting you’re wrong is a weakness, but if you’re an engineer, you essentially want to be wrong half the time. If you do experiments and you’re always right, then you aren’t getting enough information out of those experiments. You want your experiment to be like the flip of a coin: You’ve no idea if it’s going to come up heads or tails.[…]

“Google decided to buy lots of cheap computers that break down all the time, because they’re so much cheaper, you can design the system with multiple backups and ways to route around problems and so forth. We just architect the system to expect failure.”

On products failure, he said “We [try] to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like 3 months than 3 years. And average team size is small, so if we’ve a new idea, we don’t have to go through political lobbying of saying, “Can we’ve 50 people to work on this?” Instead, it’s more done bottom up: 2 or 3 people get together and say, “Hey, I want to work on this.” They don’t need permission from top level to get it started because it’s just a couple of people; it’s kind of off the books.””

Full Interview: Error Message: Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong

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