Why Knowing How Software is Created is Essential to the Modern Company
This is a continuation of an earlier post “How AI Strips us of our Humanity”.
We also need to recognize that humans and their tools are inextricable. The vast majority of activities we love doing involve tools. We are distinct in our ability to invent and make use of tools. The wayfinding example in the article above still uses tools in the from of the sail boat. Moreover, cognitive tools perform the thinking for us. Whether it’s GPS, Google, Autosuggest or spell-checking, each time we use these tools is a time we deprive our minds from exercising the replaced skill (i.e. navigation, memory, writing, spelling). We can extrapolate this loss as more advanced AI come on-line. The convenience of AI is a double edged sword, on one hand it allows us to do more and on the other hand it allows us to use less of our mind. This is the curse of convenience that slowly erodes our cognitive capabilities.
This does not rule out the possibility that we can strike a good balance between the use of our mind and cognitive technology. Software developers do this very well by off loading a lot of cognitive work to machines. The practice of Devops is an advanced example of this. The richest and most advanced form of work and process can be found in software development. It is in this field where you find the frontier of human and machine collaboration. This is why the modern company cannot afford to have executives who have zero experience in software development. Companies of the future are going to be driven by AI and AI is essentially software. Expertise in managing software is essential to the modern company.
Therefore, I strongly disagree with the argument that non-technical people do not have to learn how to program. They not only need to know how to program, they also need to understand more advanced software engineering methodologies. You cannot know how to collaborate with AI tools without knowing anything about how software is composed together to create solutions.
Yes, programming is hard. Yes, software engineering is even harder. I am not saying that you need to master these crafts. I am saying that you must have some experience being involved in software creation. Do yourself a favor and take some time of attend a bootcamp and a hackathon. If nobody in your company has any familiarity of how software is created, then your company is basically in the middle of a river without a paddle.
The companies of the future will be highly automated. Just because they are automated does not mean that they do not change or do not need to be fixed. The business environment always changes, therefore automation must always change. How does one manage a change in automation without ever having any experience working in software development? What mental models will one rely on to think of what needs to be done and should not or cannot be done? A person without the software experience is simply blind to the numerous decision points that need to be made.
Steve Jobs grew up with an understanding of how complex software systems were built. Steve Jobs was an artist though, but a very different kind of artist. His art was in the complex products he led to design. Jobs was a very difficult person to work with, however it is not out of the norm to find artists that are very difficult to work with. Jobs had a very good understanding of humanity. He spent time in India seeking spirituality. He was guided in the design of the Mac from his time spent studying calligraphy. These two are experiences that are non-standard to the Westerner. Jobs’ true genius however was in discovering what was meaningful for humans and tapping into that void in the from of technological products. Here’s Jobs’ speech about the “Think Different” Apple marketing campaign:
Steve Jobs talks about a time when Apple fell into the trap of focusing too much on the technological features of their product. Jobs is saying that to be a successful product, one needs to tap into the human needs of the customer. Jobs says that it is not about making boxes to “allow people to do their jobs well”. Rather he says that Apple’s core value is that “people with passion can change the world for the better”. Reminds me exactly of Ikigai (生き甲斐):
This is an idea that the Japanese had long before Steve Jobs came along. This is something that never changes despite the rapid change in society and technology. It is a core principle.
To do well to market your product, focus on identifying a person’s reason for being. For anything to be successful(AI included) it must address a person’s reason for being. This requires understanding of both how complex software is created and requires understanding of what drives humanity.
I leave you with this explanation from Elon Musk as why he launched his Tesla roadster into space: