Hofstadter's law is a self-referential adage, coined by Douglas Hofstadter in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979) to describe the widely experienced difficulty of accurately estimating the time it will take to complete tasks of substantial complexity:
Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.
Hofstadter introduced the law in connection with a discussion of chess-playing computers, which at the time were continually being beaten by top-level human players, despite outpacing humans in depth of recursive analysis. Conventional wisdom held that the strength of human players lay in their ability to focus on particular positions rather than follow every possible line of play to its ultimate conclusion. Hofstadter wrote:
In the early days of computer chess, people used to estimate that it would be ten years until a computer (or program) was world champion. But after ten years had passed, it seemed that the day a computer would become world champion was still more than ten years away. . . . This is just one more piece of evidence for the rather recursive Hofstadter's Law.
Notably, that day did indeed come, when Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997, which indicates that the Law of Accelerating Returns may take effect when the task is repeated, thus counteracting—and in some cases overpowering—Hofstadter's law.[non sequitur]
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- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. 20th anniversary ed., 1999, p. 152. ISBN 0-465-02656-7
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