I'm a fairly technical guy and naturally a lot of the meetings i attend revolve around computer technology and such. So, i was in one such meeting the other day with a few people that i haven't met before. Ofcourse everyone was busy staring at their phones, pads or laptops. A few topics were discussed and then it happened. One of the guys in there while describing his work, started to spurt out the exact code that he wrote to solve one of the problems, word for word, slash for slash. The funny part came in when another guy interjected and corrected him because he missed a semicolon which made a few of us in the room burst into laughter. I'm sure some of you have experienced this before and i'm not trying to undermine code writers or people that pay attention to detail cause when writing code, a semicolon can make or break your program. That interchange stuck in my mind for a few weeks, cause i felt there's some significance to it that i couldn't decipher yet. But i think i finally got it!
I was heading to work this morning and along my way to pick up some, one of the stores had a board outside, 'instructing' us how to order a salad. A salad became an algorithm. Sure recipes have been here forever and those can be considered algorithms, but what happened to just a plain salad? Or coffee? Or a burger? Have you noticed how more and more places have been breaking things down into their constituent parts. This is not a necessarily new practice since Dell and others have been doing something like that for a while now, but that method has spilled over into our everyday life now. So, to order a burger, you look at the menu and it's a recipe. You choose the type of bread, meet, cheese, condiments ... We all have different tastes and with the rise of the society of individuals, businesses have to adjust and cater to those needs, but there's more to it. The slow prevalence of this algorithmic approach is expanding Toffler's idea of a "prosumer" or proactive consumer and replacing cashiers with machines. I'm not against efficiency and progress, but what are the repercussions?
This is slowly and unconsciously moving us into looking and thinking about things in a process driven fashion. We might not realize it now, but the more we interact with that ‘system’ the more we adjust our thinking and behavior to fit that system. I’m pretty positive that most people have had to change the way something is done due to some software program restriction. Twitter is a simple example. I really like twitter as a lot of people do, but have you stopped to think how we’re adjusting our train of thought to make sure it’s within the 140-character limit? In the last tweet you posted, did you not end up using a different word from the one you wanted because the other word was already hash-tagged and what the heck, it’s close enough?
Most movies and doomsday scenarios show how machines one day will surpass human intelligence and enslave us. That’s an interesting take, but I think there’s a flipside to that coin. I think the fear is that we lose ourselves along the way and turn into the exact machines that we are afraid of!