In 2009, an Air France jet crashed into the ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Human error was blamed, but the plane’s system was also at fault. An alarm went off, signaling a moderate but, at the time, unspecified danger; the pilots responded to the ambiguous problem as trained … and likely made the situation much worse.

It’s something experts are seeing a lot of these days: safety enhancements end up making systems, whether planes or banks, much more dangerous. The systems have been termed Robust-Yet-Fragile. They’re good at responding to known crises, but terrible when it comes to the unexpected. As their complexity grows, the smallest events begin to trigger the largest disasters.

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