Monthly Archives: February 2017

Why are we so quick to believe computers are taking over the world?

I have just read this BBC News article. The heading, “robots and drones take over classrooms”, and the opening illustration, showing a robot teacher, suggests that this is an article about robots taking away teachers’ jobs. The third paragraph talks about “a world where artificial intelligence and robots threaten jobs.”

But the article itself is about nothing of the sort.

The article is about a London school where students built a virtual reality Ethiopian village, the students programmed a robot to ski, and an Indiana school where students learned to program a drone. Then it talks about Microsoft building software for headsets for understanding the human body. There is a discussion about whether students should be learning this sort of stuff.

Of course it makes sense for students to learn as much about computers as they possibly can, or are inclined to. [Although based on personal experience, the idea that all young people would rather learn how to code than watch YouTube is not true].

But none of this is taking anyone’s job away, if anything the teachers are far more engaged doing this, and far more robotlike if they were reciting the same lessons year after year with no mental engagement at all (fairly common 20 years ago, based on personal experience).

So what’s going on. Is society just really keen to talk about robots taking over people’s jobs? Is this narrative driven by the sort of people who enjoy threating people’s livelihoods? Anyway, its a load of nonsense.






Is Steve Jobs’ genius helping us be the person we want to be – and what is the lesson for enterprise software companies?

Many people have tried to reverse engineer Steve Jobs and build companies or government departments like he did, and there are many theories about what made him successful. Here’s another – that he understood how to make us become the person we want to be.
This is no trivial thing. Whether we feel that we are the person we want to be is just about another name for ‘happy’. If we are the person we want to be at work, then we’re happy at work, not to mention doing a good job.
We all want to be respected. We want to feel that we have some degree of leverage over our employer to counterbalance the leverage our employer has over us. We want to feel that we are doing something useful. And these may be key points but what makes us happy is also an endless list which varies from person to person.
Steve Jobs managed to create electronic devices which made many of us feel the way we want to feel. That was a kind of double genius, first understanding how a device could possibly do this without seeing it, and then getting the thing built.
When people say he was unpleasant to work with perhaps they are only saying what it was like to be on the receiving end of having a boss with a clear idea of where he wants to go which you can either fit in with or leave. That’s not pleasant but you can judge him on his results.
How can a phone help people feel better about themselves? I don’t use any Apple products but I can think of many ways – the device gives me what I want, it responds to me, it doesn’t annoy me like a lot of software does, it surprises me, it feels great to have close to me, I feel like I understand it.
Plug that into the discussions going on about how to build business software and systems today. Our relationship with our employer is in many ways more personal than our relationship with our phones, in that it governs whether we can provide for our families, or our status in the world (for people who care about that). If people work with software all day long, the software is in some ways the vehicle with people work with their employers.
So is it possible to build business software which makes us feel much more respected, valued, that we have at least some leverage over our employers, that we are doing something useful? Surely, yes it is.
Not many business software companies think about this sort of thing. But if they did, would they be as successful as Steve Jobs?