3 Things Programmers Should Start Doing Right Now
Advancements in technology should be shared and understood by many
There is no need to discuss whether technology influences the world. It does. The question of how it affects the world, however, never loses its importance. Influential philosophers like Heidegger extensively studied technology because, to them, technology is the key to understanding the world. I believe there is a lot of truth to that.
But how can one deal intensively and purposefully with advances in technology without having the highly technical specializations and qualifications required today? For me, the key must be a fruitful discourse between specialists and large parts of the world’s population. We should all have the opportunity to participate and make sense of new technology. This meaningful participation requires active questioning and answering. To facilitate this discourse, people without a technical background must overcome their inhibitions about highly complex technological issues.
Maybe we can get some help from you?
Start Using Language We Understand
It is much easier to explain what a program can do using terms from this specific programming language. Stepping out of this zone by using everyday language makes it harder to convey details within the program setup. Even worse, how can you break something down to someone who doesn’t have a clue what the framework is you have invested so much of your time and efforts. Why even bother, right?
Let me give you three reasons why you should take the time and bother:
First, I believe you’ll find the glitches in your setup much quicker. Why is that? Supposedly stupid questions make you rethink the design itself — every single time you have to adjust your language, you will have to figure out a new way of explaining, and in doing so, you’ll rethink the design.
Second, you’ll know whether you have built something that makes sense. If it’s something people would use, or something the general public can see themselves incorporating into their everyday lives, or they see why engineering companies would have a use for it, you have built something robust. And this, my dear programmers, is maybe even a free market opportunity assessment given by someone who has no idea about coding. Free tip: If eyes widen and you get an “aha! — now I get it. This is ingenious! It’s just like (insert everyday application here)”. Well, it’s a winner!
Third, you have sharpened your arguments and will defend your programs in discussions with other professionals more fiercely. Why? Well, you have thought about every aspect of your lines of code. They make sense, and you know, and you’ll have elicited the pros and cons way before anyone has praised or criticized your work.
Tell Us More, Elaborate, and Explain in More Detail
Yes, it is incredibly obnoxious to repeat the same things over and over again. But to us, it may not sound like the same principle at all. Trust me. It took me a while to understand the task of a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller. No, I don’t happen to know any of these mathematical terms. You could explain it saying something like PIDs compare the setpoint to the measured output to see how far off these to measurements are. But preferably, explain things like this.
To you, it is evident how a particular mathematical principle works or how the programming language is structured. It is not for outsiders. I found it very important to have more background and elaborations with detail or a crazy fun fact (you bet, we’d definitively remember the crazy fun fact — the rest, probably not so much, sorry!). They might seem insignificant to you, but to outsiders, it gives them an idea, something they can relate to. To understand a PID, you’ll have to grasp the mechanisms of the feedback loop. I am very sorry, but nobody uses the term proportional-integral-derivative controller daily. And I can’t remember the last time I said derivative in a casual conversation. Honestly, can you? You might have said it at work. We haven’t used it at all. At all.
There are many more examples that I could further elaborate on in this section because the world of technology is very complicated. However, I firmly believe that we must inform ourselves first and have an idea of what we need to know before asking a programmer something. Are we truly ready to fire away with questions? It is our task to try and understand the engineering way to go about a specific item or problem. They can show us the way, but we have to be willing to walk.
Listen to Our Fears
While you know more about the possibilities of technology and have a much clearer concept of what the future might have in store for us, don’t forget to listen to our fears. What happens to a society that stops to call on the phone simply because we don’t know whether we are talking to a bot or a real person? Is it that great to have your bot call your favorite restaurant for reservations? Techies sell it as a time-saving invention, but is it? Yes, I might have to clear five minutes out of my schedule to make the call, but on the other hand, if I don’t, I might lose five minutes with my favorite waiter (and the reason our favorite restaurant is our favorite is not tied to food alone, right?). Now, I can see situations where this can come in handy. Can I outsource the calls to my insurance company to a bot?
Since I have just undermined my point, let me give you another example: facial recognition. I was not asked when they pulled my picture from social media — and tell me, how could I have known that my photo on social media would end up in a database for facial recognition purposes? James Oliver has made a show about it recently. He explained the mechanisms behind these flawed systems to a broader audience. And he did it because it’s alarming.
It’s this that bothers me the most. Why does one believe this tech fix is necessary? Dr. Ruha Benjamin of Princeton University concludes that “tech fixes for social problems are not simply about technology’s impact on society but also about how norms and values shaped what tools are imagined necessary in the first place.”
Meaning, we are in this together.
We Need Both Worlds
Perhaps my three wishes cover the core of what I mean by saying we’re in this together: speaking a common language, pointing out backgrounds, and taking warning signals and defensive attitudes seriously are not contradictory, but instead are in a context that forms, consolidates, or overthrows social norms.
Especially today, civil society can no longer afford to exclude sections of the population from these discussions. As with every upheaval, it requires the courage to ask questions, the ability to answer these questions in a goal-oriented manner, and the mutual willingness to reach a compromise that will serve the future.
Thanks for reading!