Binary

Scott Francis
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The USA Today has a much-retweeted article with some great soundbite material from Marc Andreesen, who is widely respected in startup and venture circles, for good reason.

The money quote is this one:

“The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories,” Andreessen says. “People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.”

This is an awfully black-and-white view.  And it is typical of big-thinkers to boil it down to simple statements about the way the world works. It isn’t because they actually think the world is that black and white, they’ve just learned that it is an effective way to communicate – a simple, well-defined declaration that can be easily remembered and repeated.  It is followed by some color commentary:

Decades of political issues will follow that split, he says. The division between the masters of machines and those who take orders from them will feed even greater income inequality in the years ahead, he says. Success in the 2042 economy also requires big changes in education — both in how society provides schooling and in how young people should consume it.
“It’s extremely positive for the people who have the ability to project what they do globally,” Andreessen says. “If you tell the computer what to do — product development, marketing — the last 30 years have been phenomenal. In the next 30 years, it gets more extreme.”

I just don’t agree with his dystopian view of the world.  Which is a bit ironic because I do agree with his advice – study “STEM” subjects, focus on practical skills for the future.  And I agree with him that the US has some particular advantages in being entrepreneurial and having a pro-business leaning to laws on the books.  And I’m very optimistic about the future of coding and design skills in our economy.

But if anything, we’re witnessing a renaissance in craftsmanship, a renewed value in skills that have been undervalued the last 10 years or more.  Sites like Kickstarter and Etsy put an emphasis on design and hand-made goods. I recently bought a watch on Kickstarter, machined and put together by a small business in California.

The world won’t be so binary as he presents.  Most of us will do both – we’ll take orders from machines when we stop at stop lights, and we’ll give orders to computers when we want something done – like getting us from point A to point B.  Our world in the future will have a lot more “stop lights” – not to mention online interactions with government and corporations.  But the other trend is that telling computers what to do is going to get easier and easier.  More people will be telling their cars where they want to go, telling their phones to look something up, and in general telling computers what to do.

Andreesen mentions marketing as one of those groups that tells computers what to do. But only 15 or 20 years ago, marketing was practically devoid of technology… and now marketing is seen as one of those categories that tells computers what to do.  What changed?  We’ve made it easier to tell computers what to do.  That capability is more accessible than ever, thanks to progressive investment in software and hardware over the last few decades.  So while his prediction about telling computers to do may come true – the trend is that more and more people will have the skills to do just that – because it is getting easier and easier to do.

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