The Blog of Brian Ballard Quass

Response to Robot Journalist Finds New Work on Wall Street, by Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review, January 2015

The Pied Piper of Efficiency




Like many other I.T. "advances" these days, Quill software begs a question that geeks and their boosters have yet to address: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

Of course, even to ask that question is counter-revolutionary heresy in today's tech-centric environment. The assumption of the faithful at Singularity U. is that we have no choice but to follow the Piped Piper of efficiency right off the economic cliff, if that turns out to be where that hip Johnny One-Note is leading us as a country.



But let me rephrase the question as the following hypothetical, in the hopes of rendering it more palatable, at least to the philosophically minded:

If we discovered a software that would immediately render 4/5 of the country unemployed upon its release, would it be wise (let alone moral) to release it?

Assuming that we can all agree that the answer to the foregoing question is NO, then it follows that there is, indeed, (even in the minds of the most ambitious of Valley entrepreneurs) a point at which the combined economic fallout of I.T.'s ongoing "solutions" becomes too great for the society to bear. On that, I'm hoping that we're all agreed.



It is in the spirit of that modest understanding that I repeat my opening question: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

I'm not advocating Ludditism per se, but given the economic malaise and growing chasm between rich and poor, I think it's only fair to ask if a "phased roll-out" of disruptive technology doesn't make more sense than this continued dogmatic rush to "innovate" at all costs.

Today's rush to ruin reminds me of the mother who asks the thoughtless child: "If your friend jumped off a cliff, would YOU do so?" And I can't help but hear today's child responding: "Yes, if he or she worked for Google!"



That said, there are some killer apps that we could use right away: namely, the ones that actually CREATE jobs for human beings rather than taking them away. For all their genius, however, that's one bar that today's software programmers can't seem to reach.











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