Macchina Automatica: The rise of software machines

The Future.

Robots are software, and software is eating the earth. It’s sounds like something from a Marvel comic.

In the 1960s and 1970s folks thought robots would liberate us by taking over the mundane and repetitive. And as it turns out, we were right … sort of.

However, the rise of robots has not been heralded by the appearance of 3CPIO-type humanoid machines that act as fearless, but sarcastic slaves to the whim of humankind. Nor are they the horrifying spectre of some twisted version of Terminator, carrying out the demonic orders of some overbearing artificial super-intelligence. The reality is altogether less visual, but no less significant.

Today’s robots are almost invisible, living under the surface of day-to-day life. They exist in the devices and the software of almost every “thing” you own, and are interconnected via the Internet. A decade ago you might have had one or two devices (probably a laptop, maybe a phone) connected to the Internet.

Today, it is not uncommon for a person to have 50 or more devices attached to the cloud; phones, tablets and computers plus any number of smart-home devices such lights, heating and energy systems, security cameras and fire/smoke detectors, watches, speakers, TVs, games consoles, power systems and your car. We truly live in a hyper-connected world.

As pretty much every new device is connected to the cloud (SkyNet?), it embues interconnected items with a form of shared learning. The collective knowledge enables a level of intelligence (or even conscience?) not possible a decade ago. And, the more items connected, the greater the compounded effect.

The “cloud” is on the road to becoming super-intelligent (and eventually sentient?). As the cloud gets smarter, so does every device attached to it – intelligence increases exponentially. And that means the opportunity to automate more and more functions and services.

In the late 20th century, and into the first decade of the 21st century, software would broadly do a single job, usually unconnected and often at our bidding. Today, of course, platforms are so powerful and advanced that they know what we want, and often before us -think predictive notifications, text and search engine results.

“So they can predict the future, can they?” – ok, maybe not the future as you might imagine in some abstract timeline travel thing. But, guided and taught by past behaviour and responding by serving content, services and information to humans exactly when and where we need it is driving a not-so-quiet revolution.

Software is truly eating the world, and it’s ravenous. But does it matter?

Many folks don’t seem to care, belonging in the realm of the geek, and science fiction. This might be true at the moment, but not for long – the future is coming and probably a good deal sooner than you think. It will touch every aspect of our lives.

The adoption of cloud-connected devices might still be in it’s infancy, but the ramifications are huge: Cars that drive themselves; self-sufficient home automation; and even the end of personal crime. This will revolutionise our lives for the better and kickstart a social revolution that will change how we live and play.

And what about work?

Business is never slow to turn small gains in technology into competitive advantage. As a result, we’re already seeing connected services and automation moving into the workplace. And it reaches into every corner of business.

For example, take a look at accounting, the dull but key mainstay of business. Accounting nowadays can run 24×7 almost untended, automatically invoicing, reconciling and filling – all with less than 10% of the human interaction and cost required at the turn of the century.

Cloud-services are unshackling the workforce from the 9 to 5 and the grim commute. We’re in the middle of a revolution in how “workspace” is being delivered. And the end of the traditional deskspace as mundane processes are automated we’re being liberated to be more creative – saving money, time and employee sanity all at the same time.

Many of the simpler tasks in the workplace are in the process of being automated by software robots, or robotic-like services. But this does not just affect semi-skilled labour. In fact, we’re already seeing the beginning of the end for middle management, toxic meetings and clumsy hierarchical structures.

Organisations are rapidly evolving to become living, self-organised, groups of collective intellect and creativity. This new breed of organisations collaborate and communicate using agile methods and hierarchy-free channels and eschew traditional command-and-control structures.

This change is not reserved just for creative industries, operations is often a significant part of business costs and digital disruptions and automation is bringing huge efficiencies and saving to everything from traditional IT services to operational marketing support. The savings are huge but are dwarfed by the competitive advantages staring businesses in the face.

“I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords”. And those that master them will rule the earth.