I’m a FlipBoard junkie. Some folks are hooked on Candy Crush, some on Pokemon Go (or another flavor-of-the-month app that promotes one walking into traffic) – but for me, whenever there’s a free moment I’m feverishly thumb-flicking through headlines & article ledes in FlipBoard, then dropping those of interest into digital “magazines” which can be enjoyed later and also shared with others. It kinda makes the user a curator of content – sometimes it feels like playing Tetris with web articles, dropping chunks of hey-this-is-cool down a digital well. The itchy problem with FlipBoard is that while it’s very easy to find interesting content to flip into a magazine, carving out life-time to actually read the ever-deepening pile of said content can be rabidly problematic.
Earlier this week – based on my indicated fetish/obsession with Artificial Intelligence & robotics – FlipBoard dealt me an article from SingularityHub which was originally published in May of this year. The title of the article is, “Machines Won’t Replace Us, They Will Force Us to Evolve“. As that’s a point I just touched upon in the August 29 post, I thought I’d mosey over and take a gander.
The focus of this thought-provoking piece is how AI will affect design and engineering. Specifically, how designers will describe what is (and what is not) desired to an application and to help guide it to produce the final, satisfactory output/product. This is indicative of a shift in roles: from technical operator to maestro. This shift was echoed in another SingularityHub piece that dropped on August 29 (Engineering Will Soon Be ‘More Parenting Than Programming’).
Reminds me of something I read in a book a long, long time ago. Back when there were a lot more bookstores in the wild, I used to actively seek them out and haunt them. I was like a bloodhound, locked onto the spoor of ink and paper. When going on vacation to distant locales, would I buy a t-shirt emblazoned with some local attraction, or a kitschy snow globe, or a cheap shot glass? Nope. I’d buy a book from a local bookshop and snag a bookmark printed with the name of the place (if one was to be had). This approach to souvenir accumulation has proven to be infinitely more useful and left me with far less junk to throw away later in life.
It was on one such bookstore loiter session that I ran across Pulitzer Prize nominee James Martin’s awesome book, “After the Internet: Alien Intelligence“. Who could leave a book on the shelf after getting hit with that title? Seriously, it smashed into my forehead like a flaming axe handle.
Martin’s 2000 book was my first ‘serious’ exposure to Artificial Intelligence, and it was an enjoyable, solid overview of the core concepts. One of the ideas that flash-parboiled my brain was that software engineers who are developing AI will not conduct standard coding activities, but rather will serve in a far less traditional capacity. As Martin puts it: “Like a horse breeder, a software breeder has a precise goal in mind. But software evolution directs itself toward that target at electronic speed, trying out millions of variations.” He also wrote that, “the future of computing depends upon the extent to which we can direct self-evolving software so that we can extract the most value out of it.”
Tangentially mutating Martin’s analogy, I’m seeing software ‘cowboys’ trying to drive a herd of AI ‘cattle’ toward a given goal, prodding and nudging the mass along while occasionally having to catch one of the dowgies that’s strayed off back into the fold.
Martin’s description of these job activities and the SingularityHub articles made me hearken back to the work I used to do as a business analyst. My job (across three different companies, over time) was to determine what an application being developed was to accomplish, to codify those requirements, to get buy off from stakeholders, to communicate those requirements to the developers and to ensure those requirements were being met and delivered in a timely manner. Digital scribe, arbiter and shepherd, that was me. A business analyst’s responsibility was to define what was to be done, not how it was to be done. This sounds like a cousin to what is being described by Martin and the SingularityHub articles.
What’s the upshot? Yes, machines will force us to evolve. We will have to expand our skill sets to accommodate the professional challenges presented by a work dynamic that will shift, buck and wiggle like a tub of Jell-o in an earthquake due to the ever-expanding capabilities of the tools we use to do our jobs.
Even though the focus here is on how the relationship between developer/designer/engineer & technology is changing, it does not mean that this dynamic is exclusive to this white collar, technology development arena. In order to facilitate our ongoing economic survival, many of us will have to figure out what complementary skills are required to work in tandem with developing technologies and effectively demonstrate those skills and our value on an ongoing basis. This is important to remember and internalize whether you work in software development or customer service. We’re seeing increasing instances of automation/robotics being incorporated into clothing production, food preparation and security. This is a growing trend that shows no sign of slowing down.
So, regardless of the color of our collar, how do we remain relevant? By watching the technologies that can affect our industries, determining how we can evolve to either work alongside them or to completely evolve into another role.
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