ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context: SoftwareEatsWorld

(ReadWith) AlgorithmicDespotism

My Quora Answer to a question about what skills software developers have that might be more widely applicable.

Quora Answer : What are some must-know tricks of your trade that most people are oblivious to? Are there any pieces of knowledge from your industry or experience that could help everyone if they knew it?

Feb 8, 2012

Today, I was trying to fix something on my wife's computer and told her some variant of "don't count your chickens before they're hatched". At which she accused me of not thinking positively.

I was forced to explain to her that the computer would do what it does regardless of whether we take a positive attitude or not.

As we are increasingly faced with a world eaten by software, the skill that everyone is going to have to learn from programmers is to recognise what machines are: implacably logical, impervious to emotional appeal. They will not be brow-beaten. They will not sympathize with your suffering. They are indifferent as to whether you are happy or sad, optimist or pessimist.

In the useful terminology of the philosopher DanielDennett, we will all need to take more of a "DesignStance" and less of an "IntentionalStance" towards many of the institutions we deal with. Hence, "knowing how to remain calm and move forward in the face of the mechanical" is the skill I suggest that people need to learn from my trade of software developer.

Further Thoughts

My point is that one of the effects of the wholesale automation of work that's going on at the moment, is that a lot of life that people have expected to be human is becoming mechanical. It's the change that's significant here.

It used to be only officious government bureaucrats that acted like machines. (And they were hated for it.) Whereas most people you met : the baker, the guy selling vegetables in the market, your colleagues, foreman or manager at the factory or office, you dealt with as a human.

Today we're about to be encaged by app-stores, vending machines, automatic checkouts, automated telephone answering services or call-centres where the person answering the phone is following a machine-driven script. Our banks will be automated servers. Our education will be by video on demand.

Suddenly, you will be faced every day with machine gatekeepers to everything that you need and want.

The only way to navigate such a system is with the tools that are more familiar to geeks. To read the FAQ. To Google for fixes to common problems. To raise bugs in issue trackers. (I think I remember JohnHagel once saying that for organisations, the biggest, growing problem was exception handling, and that bug-trackers were the tool to help them cope.)

For people who don't have that range of skills. For people who used to get by by writing a stiff letter of complaint or getting angry with the shopkeeper or looking pathetic and winning help from a sympathetic stranger, this world is going to be a hell.

Algorithmic Cruelty :

See CashlessSociety

See also :