Name of Essay: A New Soft Technology
Software started blowing up around the year 2000. It existed before, but it was mostly used to solve problems of the industrial age rather than to explore possibilities.
"After written language and money, software is only the third major soft technology to appear in human civilization."
Soft technology: an innovation that can be used in a variety of physical forms.
- think of money - it can be embodied in credit cards, checks, paper, coins, precious metals.
- similarly, software can be embodied in any sort of computing hardware.
- Unlike money, though, software can be applied to almost everything — from cars to light bulbs. Eventually, hardware will be so cheap that software will be in everything. (it’s eating the world!) This vision is called the Internet of Things.
The societal impact if software is more profound than what economic numbers show. For example, it has allowed young people who aren't in any labor statistics to learn programming and contribute to open-source projects, and get to a professional level quickly. This is what it means to break smart.
- "Breaking smart: an economic actor using early mastery of emerging technological leverage to wield disproportionate influence on the emerging future."
Today, a kid could create so much economic value with just a computer and an internet connection. The return of investment can easily be as significant as paying 100k over 4 years to acquire a degree. In the most extreme cases it can be as significant as the creation of a new industry.
- an extreme example is when Shawn Fanning created Napster as a teen, which created an explosion in independent music production.
Because of the fact that computing potential is constantly increasing we are headed towards the collective vision called the Internet of Things.
- Putting a chip and software into everything is estimated to bring around 2.7 to 14 trillion in economic value: comparable to the entire GDP of the US
Software & Ridesharing
The story of Uber and Lyft can explain the subtle yet profound impact that software has on the economy.
At first these companies seemed like they were just an easy way to finding and paying for rides. Then it became obvious that they completely eliminated human dispatchers and lowered the level of expertise required for driver. It also solved the problem of trust and safety through GPS tracking and ratings.
All of that allowed for an increase in driver supply and lowering of cost.
This ridesharing revolution has had second-hand effects
- The increased convenience created more careless lifestyles.
- People now are willing to go to places where it was inconvenient before with public transportation
- Suburbanization, which is driven in part by car ownership, is being disrupted
- Lower demand of cars. This leads to lowered lifestyle cost and spare money that is used for other things.
The software infrastructure used for ridesharing is effecting businesses like delivery services and is paving the way for driverless cars.
Our relationship to cars is changing
- "To generations of Americans, owning a car represented freedom. To the next generation, not owning a car will represent freedom."
All of these changes are occurring essentially because of one app.
"The impact is more than economic. Every aspect of the global industrial social order is being transformed by software."
- Just like how language and money, but A LOT more powerful. Software can go wherever money and language can go and beyond. "Software can also eat both, and take them to places they can't go alone."
Because the impact is so dramatic, the risk of being on the wrong side of this transformation is costly. This is true at all levels: from individuals to businesses to nations.
This essay helped me understand how a technology's effect could be subtle yet profound. It now makes sense to me how the future of software is being underestimated.