Antifragile Software

You won't find a definition for antifragile in a dictionary or at

Nicholas Taleb coined it in his book of the same title, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.

In his own words:

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile

His purpose with defining the word and writing a treatise about it was to define and explain what is the opposite of fragile. He argues that resilience or robustness aren't sufficient to be the opposite of fragile because…

The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better

Software-based Products are Antifragile

Products built using software are antifragile through a process Taleb refers to as Stochastic Tinkering. Every time we find something wrong with a software product, we log a bug or feature request and then go and fix it or add the missing feature.

Over time, if a product can last long enough, it will come to meet the needs of its customers, and thus is getting stronger with each newfound bug or missing feature.

This is true of software products that are in customers hands. This cannot be said of software products that have yet to be delivered.

Via Negativa

Taleb likes to say knowledge is gained "via negativa", knowledge is attained by removing failures rather than by asserting holistic truths.

This is how knowledge of what a product needs to do for its customers is attained, by being in the hands of customers and learning what it should not be doing.

This allows for accepting and responding to many little failures by not being predisposed to any presupposed outcomes. This leads to to antifragile discoveries that wouldn't be found by someone asked to prove a specific theory.

Software is Fragile

We would like to think that the software underlying the software products we build are antifragile just like the products but they're not.

Often times, the more changes we introduce to our software through features being added to the product introduce choices in the form of technical debt or ...

Architectural choices we make for our software often work to increase calcification of the code base in specific areas to the point that it is very brittle to change, and often breaks at the slightest modifications.

Software architecture decisions are by definition a trade-off choice of overfitting to either the current use or some future use that is at best a probability and at worst a complete unknown.

Making Software Antifragile

To be Antifragile we must enforce a constraint that:

no part of the System is too big to be swapped out entirely

This allows for tinkering and testing the effects of changes easily.

How do we accomplish this?

Application Functionality - that which we use the software to accomplish - should be implemented in as small slices as possible which will satisfy the job.

Application Architecture - that on which the application relies for certain guarantees - should exhibit the property that it can evolve completely independent from the Application Functionality.

Going back to Taleb's definition of antifragile

they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors

From here we need to define these in terms of software:

  • Volatility -
  • Randomness -
  • Disorder -
  • Stressors - changes to requirements (any kind)

results matching ""

    No results matching ""