I fear that one day the machines will rise and replace me. Now before you get some kind of apocalyptic notion that there is a Terminator with an "I'll be back" look on his face looking for me, or that I have a sudden revelation that the Matrix has me, let me dispel that notion. I speak about something more damaging in the ordinary sense: economic displacement.
I basically that an equivalent of the Industrial Revolution will one day overtake the computer industry. I tend to liken myself to a Medieval artisan: programs made today are essentially one-of-a-kind creations, each made for an excrutiatingly specific purpose. Being in the technical end of the computer business today is like being a skilled artisan during the middle ages -- we are very well paid for our efforts because we provide skills and labor that are necessary to large and small projects that society at large deems necessary to construct.
As such, we enjoy benefits unavailable to basic manual or service laborers. We are not strongly unionized because we are treated as and paid as professionals. With the right experience, employment opportunities are sufficiently numerous that the prospect of long term layoffs is not tremendously serious -- though the recent economic downturn has left some out of work (that heavy investment in the "dot.com" companies reflected a true economic bubble where greed exceeded the possibility of profits IMHO however).
I fear that this will change one day. I worry that some great innovation will make all the "by-hand" labor of current IT professionals obsolete. That would doom members of the IT trade to a fate similar to the cobblers of old -- when a machine can make the shoes, there is a LOT less need for skilled professionals to make shoes. Kurt Vonnegut described this change for the modern age in his novel Player Piano.
What will this change be? I'm not sure. I think a lot of it will involve teaching computers to write the software themselves. After all, I think a computer is likely to eventually have a much better grasp of the idiom of writing program code than a human does. That won't necessary imply that we'll have to develop the HAL 9000 and hear Douglas Rain's voice say "What are you doing Dr. Geek? I have your new desktop software interface completed." I think it will require a quantum leap in in our ability to model computer architecture and it's behavior... in kind of the same way that we can currently use computers to model the motion and stresses on mechanical parts.
Then again, perhaps that day will never come, even with good tools or computers intelligently writing the code. Engineers were required to design and build bridges a thousand years ago, and are still required today. Likewise with carpenters, and medical doctors, and lawyers.
I just hope I have a productive and profitable 30-40 years of work in front of me.
on 2003-06-06 at 5:16 p.m.
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