Random thoughts of a London IT Developer

Give a man a fish feed him for a day; teach him to fish…..

Technology is a disruptive influence – its effect in society is far greater than the use of the technology itself. When man first developed iron tools – it led eventually to farming, the domestication of animals and the end to the daily hunt for food. When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type – it led widespread publishing and the end of the control the church had over the dissemination of science. The creation of mobile communications and the internet led to the Arab Spring. Technology has led to changes in society and the overthrow of the established way of working far in excess of the technology itself.

Technology also abstracts itself. When I use a GPS, I don’t need to understand three-dimensional geometry, that time slows down the further one is from gravity well, rocket science, satellites and geostationary orbits – I just need to know where I am going and what vehicle I am going to travel in. That small box which is stuck to the windscreen of my car hides all the technology which allows it to tell me how to get to my destination. As technology matures so it hides its complexity.

It was a few decades ago that computing was the preserve of a few. With computers the size of rooms served by a priests and acolytes speaking some technical language only they understood. Now I have more computing power in my pocket – and it allows me to communicate across the globe. An API (Application Programming Interfaces) looks to do the same with Computer Programming. When I program a computer – I have to understand databases, stored procedures, queries, indexes and how they are stored on the computer. The API abstracts all that away – all I need to know is how to call the API. If I want to retrieve a list of customers I can call the relevant API and all that technology is brought to bear and return a list of customers, but I don’t have to understand how the API works.

Technology also becomes cheaper – those room sized computers that used to break down multiple times a day cost millions. Now the same power  fits in a pocket and costs just £35 a month – it does a lot more as well, and is a lot more reliable.

These three things; the disruptive influence of technology, the abstraction of complexity, and low cost – means technology becomes the purview of the many rather than the few.  Now more and more people can use the technology, and API’s allow more people to engage in programming than before. It therefore follows that programming API’s can be used by those with less education, and at a lower cost than before.  Talented people, but with lower training than before can write compelling applications for phones and tablets and make money at a very low cost.  Companies that create API’s rely on as many developers using them to increase their profit margins. Using a profit share the API developer can allow those who programme against it to make money from their creations, the API makes this easier than creating a complex application from scratch So new opportunities for those less fortunate are now possible through the power of the API, and both parties; the API creator and the developer win.

When is Science Fiction, is not Science Fiction? - and no I am not talking about the output of SciFi (or Syfy as it insists it should be called). No what I am referring to is how so much of what was Science Fiction - has now become reality - or at least will be in a few years. OK so we are not yet on the moon and no it did not get blasted into deep space with a nuclear waste plant blowing up (actually there are nuclear plants on the design table which burn nuclear waste to generate energy). However Minority Report is a decade old and already we have technology that was Science Fiction then - which is now possible. Our kids play on a console which reacts to them waving in the air! It can recognise who is talking - but this is way better than anything Tom Cruise used in Minority Report - we don’t have to wear silly gloves for a start.

We look at adverts that now our interests and we get ads that are tuned to what we do on the web and if you think that adverts which recognise you from your eyes was futuristic - there are 3d tvs which require no glasses because they follow your eyes - it is not that great a leap to picture your eyes and use it for identifying you for the purpose of advertising.

The video I linked to looks like it is from one of those Science Fiction - but already much of that technology is here today.

Failure is always an option

I kind of like that quote - it comes from Mythbusters - but it is about something we seem to have lost in the modern world - we don’t dare, because everyone has a go at you if you fail, but if you don’t risk - when will you ever succeed? Throughout it’s life NASA’s space shuttle was a test aircraft - every flight was a test. Yet now as I write NASA has no reusable lift vehicle to take Astronauts to the International Space Station. It is waiting on private organisations to come up with some.

IT Development is sometimes like that - it changes constantly, new techniques, new languages, new opportunities. It says something that the laptop most of us use is so powerful - it is more powerful than machines which took up a room and required gallons of water to cool just a few years ago.

People curse their computers - just as people probably cursed their cars 30 years after an engine was put in a cart to create the automobile. As an industry it is really rather young. The PC even more so - it is about 30 years old

What we can do with our computers would have been science fiction just a few years ago - we can wave at them, talk to them - it may not be HAL but that it the point - we will never get to HAL unless we do those first steps.

We will never get to the stars unless our leaders have the will to get us there. So lets reach for the stars, and if we only get to the moon at the moment - at least we are getting somewhere.

Technology is a wonderful thing really - but sometimes the convenience we take for granted can leave us a little open to some not really pleasent things. On the other hand it is also harder for corporations to hide things they really don’t want us to know - such as those nice RFID chips on our credit cards broadcasting access to our bank accounts. It is just a pity that corporations instead of working to prevent it - prevent the problems being talked about.