The peacock feather effect

Peahens prefer mating with peacocks that have long colorful tails.

Therefore, male birds with more impressive tails get to mate more often and have more children. Among those offspring, the male peachicks inherit the genes for long colorful tail feathers from their father, grow up with long, colorful plumage and so the cycle repeats on and on.

This positive feedback loop leads to peacock tail feathers becoming longer, more colorful and more impressive from one generation to the next.

This is the basic concept of sexual selection as articulated by Charles Darwin [0] - some features survive and flourish solely because they increase the likelihood of reproduction, besides which they don't seem to serve any purpose [1].

What Darwin was suggesting is that if peahens could talk and were asked why they chose a specific peacock to mate with, their answer would be something like: "Duh! Because plumage."

Our world of ideas happens to suffer from a similar fate. Some ideas rise to extreme prominence simply because they have an unexplainable cognitive sexiness about them. In tech, the two most obvious examples of this are AI & Blockchain.

Undoubtedly there are areas where these technologies fit better than other competing options, and it is very likely that they will constitute a large part of our future. But they also happen to be extremely sexy ideas and are way more popular than they deserve to be.

The result of that popularity is people trying to cram AI & Blockchain into all kinds of applications regardless of whether or not they fit. No these are not startup ideas in their nascent stages with SISP [2].

There are fully functional companies that at their core have product offerings like "AI for this and Blockchain for that" solving a certain problem which (when you think about it) can be solved with other less attractive alternatives.

The condition is so common that I ended up devising a simple test to check if a project I'm involved with suffers from the peacock feather effect.

I ask the team why they chose a particular technology. If the answer is some version of "Duh! Because AI.", my suspicion is confirmed [3].


[1] I'm aware of the whole Darwin vs. Wallace interpretations, please don't get hung up on that. I'm not taking sides. I'm merely using Darwin's idea to make my point.

[2] Solution(s) in search of a problem

[3] This is obviously a joke. But you'd be surprised at how often it works.