The Extinction of Routines?

Here is another posting based on September’s Atlantic Monthly, where regular contributor James Fallows conducts an interview with Charles Simonyi, who is quite a well-known software architect who worked at Microsoft then started his own company, Intentional Software.  Fallows asks Simonyi to identify today’s software that is really impressive, today’s software that is horrible, and the most dramatic changes in the area in ten years (you bet I cared about this part).  Simonyi identifies spell-checking as really impressive recent work, and it has changed how some people write, although I have heard arguments on both sides of that one. He identifies consumer electronics remote controls as some of the worst-designed artifacts in our world, and it would be hard to argue with that analysis. 

When it comes to Simonyi’s decadal prediction, he suggests the following: “we won’t have to do routine things and we can concentrate on our lives. We can concentrate on other people, on enjoying art and science, while the routing stuff will be done by software.” It is a fascinating vision in which computer AI eviscerates the human repetitive action (I suppose certain bodily functions stay routing in this vision through time immemorial). It is worth taking a few minutes and just thinking about the routine: to what degree do routine actions translate into employment, into social reinforcement, into personal satisfaction.  The idea of excising the routine is far more nuanced than Simonyi suggests, and I think there are several dystopian stories we could write about a future in which our AI assistants annoyingly do everything “easy” for us, leaving us floating when we could be grounded.

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