2018 has been a heck of a year for software.
Google serviced more than 1200 billion search queries.
Tesla accumulated more than 1.6 billion miles to teach its self-driving algorithm, 2500 times more driving than an average human in a lifetime.
Facebook-owned Whatsapp and Messenger sent more than 20 trillion messages, and all Facebook services combined, including Instagram, received 180 billion pictures.
YouTube had more than 150 million hours of video uploaded, and more than 365 billion hours watched.
Online shopping is now 12% of all purchases in the US, up from 3.5% a decade ago(1). Amazon became a $1 trillion company, and Alibaba set a new record on Single’s Day in China with more than $30 billion in sales within 24 hours.
Finally, SpaceX started sending satellites into orbit that will beam down internet and enable 100% internet penetration, so everyone on Earth can join the party.
In other words, software continues to eat the world
It has been seven years since Marc Andreessen published his now infamous article Why Software is Eating the World. It is the same number of years since Wiredelta was founded, where we have built software for some of the most ambitious companies and entrepreneurs, enjoying a front seat row on how software is eating the world.
But more importantly, we have witnessed how software is feeding the world.
Most of the debate around software’s effect on society has focused on jobs lost, neglecting the many jobs created. In addition, the debate often fails to factor in costs plummeting worldwide due to advancements in software, making life easier to not just survive but thrive.
If you could pick a time to live, it would be now. The world is moving forward, and software plays a key role. Let me explain why:
A) Time available has been increasing consistently for generations. Following your passion has never been easier. More and more people have regained their time, choosing freely what they want focus on besides work.
B) Cost has been decreasing consistently for generations. New categories of products and services have sprung up, which has kept the proportion of consumption over total income more or less constant.
C) Income has been increasing consistently for generations. New categories of industries and jobs have sprung up, meaning technology has not destroyed jobs and made everyone unemployed, rather the contrary.
A) Time available is increasing
What is your most valuable resource? You guessed it, time. We have all been given a certain amount of it, but we don’t know exactly how much. All we can do is make the most out of the time we have been given. Today, we have been liberated to make much more out of the time we’ve been given, charged by organisations that allow us to do more with less.
In the past, just meeting our basic human needs consumed most of the hours in a day. Unfortunately, this is still the case for many. A rural peasant woman in Malawi spends 35% of her time farming food, 33% cooking and cleaning, 17% fetching clean drinking water, and 5% collecting firewood. This leaves only 10% of her day for everything else. Luckily, a lot of people have limited time spent to meet basic needs.
Besides having more time during the day, we have also managed to extend our lives. Life expectancy—perhaps the best metric for standard of living and general well-being—is the average period that a person can expect to live. The UK has the largest dataset going all the way back to 1543, where life expectancy for a person born that year was 34 years. The shortest life expectancy ever recorded in history was in 1558 of only 22 years. Fast forward to 2015, where the UK records an all time high with a 81 year life expectancy. Today’s leader in life expectancy is Japan, a country that has gone through the most dramatic increase over the last decades. After the devastating effects from WWII in 1945, life expectancy in Japan was at an all time low of just 30 years. Less than 70 years later, Japan recorded a life expectancy record of 83.48 years in 2013!
You may ask what has driven time saved to fulfill basic needs. Well, we’ve tried to make slavery work—both human and animal slavery—and that worked out for a privileged few until they developed a conscience. Instead, there are today organisations saving us precious time every single day.
And for those organisations, the trend is pretty clear. The more software-driven these organisations are, the bigger the impact they have on our lives and hence the more likely they are to sustain. It doesn’t take long to plow through the apps you use and find multiple examples. Google Search lets you find virtually any information instantly. LinkedIn lets you build a resume in no time, and create a network around it while doing so! Pricerunner lets you plow through the cheapest options to buy any product. Priceline does the same for travelling. And whether you like it or not, e-scooter organisations offer a convenient service that saves daily micro-commutes for millions of people.
B) Cost is decreasing
Over the past century, food prices have decreased and continue to be a smaller part of our total expenditure(2). As a result, extreme poverty is crumbling(3), and it’s not only cost to survive that is decreasing, so is cost to thrive. The cost of starting a business has never been lower, and applications you would normally pay a fortune for are becoming virtually free.
Androids and iPhones have made your standalone video camera, GPS, digital watch, alarm clock, MP3 player, encyclopedia and video game console obsolete. Technology that would have cost you a grand total of $900,000 just a few decades ago(4)!
Beyond applications, services are following suit. Everything from financial services, to transportation to education to media to rental services are getting demonetized(5).
Revolut and Transferwise are pushing down currency exchange and transaction fees to zero.
Uber, Grab, Lyft, etc push down the cost of transporting anything to a minimum. Tesla is planning to deploy self-driving robotaxis. Transportation cost outside of Earth is also dropping. SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are making space travel affordable with self-landing (aka self-driving!) rockets.
Coursera and Khan Academy have demonetized and democratized learning. To stay relevant, Ivy League schools including Harvard, Stanford and MIT have put thousands of hours of high-quality educational material online for free.
YouTube is making television channels redundant.
Facebook is demonetizing news and media distribution.
Netflix and HBO are letting you watch almost any series or movies ever made for a small monthly fee. Spotify does the same for music.
Airbnb provides travelers with an alternative to hotels and hostels, renting at a low cost.
Lower cost has been the scapegoat of software’s negative effects on society, arguing that software is creating automation which in effect makes the wealthy richer, and the non-wealthy poorer. That argument would stand if income per person was falling, so let’s pick that one up from issue island and look at what has actually happened.
C) Income is increasing
So we have established that costs are tanking, not just to feed ourselves, but also to enjoy ourselves. Great news for all of us, especially if income is rising. Luckily, it looks like we are in for a treat.
Check out this graph on world GDP over the last two millennia(6):
Pretty mental! Of course, we have also grown the world population manifold since Jesus Christ was born, so a higher global GDP doesn’t necessarily mean increases in income per person. Thankfully, over the same period, GDP per capita has in fact increased, as shown in this animation(7):
This trend has been positive across continents, and it doesn’t seem to flip any time soon.
While this trend is interesting on a holistic level, it becomes fascinating when diving into the many moving pieces that drive increases in income.
Amazon and Alibaba are making commerce for both buyers and sellers easy, enabling transactions that wouldn’t have been practical or even possible in the past. Now, anyone with a product can buy or sell to a global marketplace at scale and at a low cost.
Google Maps and Tripadvisor have made discovering places a breeze. It levels the playing field and lets businesses that care for their customers thrive. The mellow local coffee shop, which doesn’t have Starbucks-money to pay for prime location, still has a chance.
Instagram and Twitter have made expressing and exploring easy. You can tweet and hashtag together with presidents, billionaires and the common man all at once. Anyone with a powerful story now has a global stage to express themselves, and monetize from it.
Tesla already installs full autonomy capabilities in their cars, giving all Tesla owners the option to make money on their car by adding it to a fleet of Tesla-taxis, driving other people around while the owner is not using it.
Airbnb allows people to make an income by renting out their home on a short or long term basis.
Medium lets writers monetize on their writing. YouTube does the same for video, Spotify for musicians and podcasters.
Etsy allows craftsmen and creatives to sell their handmade or vintage items on a global marketplace.
The higher income per capita is one of the most impressive steps humans have consistently managed to pull off from one generation to the next. Coupled with lower costs, standard of living has been greatly improved. Many new issues pop up as a result of this, such as climate change, inequality, and multiple refugee crises, but using our most powerful tool – human ingenuity – there is great hope that new technology powered by the latest software will solve the majority of our issues in the future. In other words, we are on a path where software is going to be feeding the world.
How software is feeding the world
The world is moving forward with increased levels of income and decreased levels of cost. This is a fantastic trajectory for future generations. There is no question that technology in general, and software in particular, has been the underlying driver behind the majority of this progress. During our work in Wiredelta, we have witnessed four overarching areas where software is feeding the world: Connectivity, Commerce, and Cognition.
We connect like never before.
Things are becoming more and more integrated. We, as humans, and the objects we surround ourselves with, are communicating at unprecedented levels.
Humans connect like never before. You can reach out to anyone, anywhere, with just a few clicks. We chat and talk constantly online, sometimes to the point where people actually end up feeling isolated. We have even started taking out intermediaries by building blockchains, allowing people to connect directly peer to peer when we transact. But humans connecting doesn’t stop at chatting, talking and transacting. With AR and VR, you can manipulate space and time(8). You can “teleport” in virtual reality and interact with people thousands of miles away. When VR becomes indistinguishable from reality, you could visit your loved ones digitally, take them to places, or play games together in an entirely new world. Envision the possibility of working in a virtual office together with your colleagues as if you were in the physical office, but from the comfort of your home.
Computers connect like never before. Our phones, vehicles and home appliances are all talking to each other without human supervision, making up the Internet of Things (IoT). We have not only managed to build smart homes, but smart cities, and soon we will see smart countries connecting and coordinating. It is already possible to summon your car to pick you up. Before long, you won’t even have to ask. Imagine calling it a day and leaving from work. Your car will look at your calendar and sync that up with your phone’s GPS, knowing that you are leaving so it starts driving towards the front door to pick you up. Once you have entered the car, it will notify your loved ones, tell your home to turn up the heat, turn on the evening news on your smart TV, Google Home or Amazon Echo, maybe even fire up the bathtub if you’ve had a long day. You won’t be asking for any of these things, your devices will be powered by assistants that know your preferences, and how they fluctuate depending on your day.
Hybrids, meaning human to non-human, connect like never before. Assistants like Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa are making us all superhuman, giving everyone an assistant that knows more about us than any human assistant could. They provide us with the information we need, when we need it. They answer our questions, heck they even answer questions on our behalf to the people around us. They help us sort out our daily schedule, they order our pizza and they notify us when a movie is in theatres. Hybrids are not only human-to-computer, but it’s also computer-to-human. Imagine your Facebook assistant right now learning how to be you, simply by studying your previous interactions on Facebook-powered services (Messenger, Instagram, Whatsapp etc). Once activated, your Facebook assistant will write to your friends on your behalf, comment on posts or pictures you are tagged in, respond to messages, even write personal birthday wishes like Joaquin Phoenix did in that movie Her.
A cornerstone to progress is to connect. Software allows human-to-human, computer-to-computer, human-to-computer and computer-to-human to connect like never before, which accelerates how software is feeding the world.
We trade like never before.
There is a shift in how we exchange goods and services with each other. Back in the day, there were workers and there were owners. Owners were the capitalists, owning large-scale factories that the workers went to every day to produce a good. At some point, services around these goods started to grow, making service-related businesses bigger and bigger, ultimately freeing up workers from the factories. Today, goods are being demonetized and produced by robots – all powered by software. At the same time, service businesses are easier and easier to start, even without major funding. The barriers to create a business are simply dropping across the board. This is unleashing the marketplace, so wherever there is demand, supply will be provided by humans, machines and a combination thereof.
Humans exchange like never before. The type of projects and businesses humans throw themselves into – and create an income from – is evolving. A few decades ago, it would have been inconceivable that the biggest retailer would be rooted in online sales. Let alone that anyone could sell or buy through the same marketplace. This is exactly what is happening on Amazon, who recently acquired Whole Foods. The barriers to large-scale projects historically reserved for governments are also breaking down. Private endeavors like SpaceX and community-driven projects like Wikipedia are just a few examples of initiatives, which would have seemed like hopeless dreams just a decade ago. The initiatives have spurred products and services in the marketplace that generations could never have dreamed about, all powered by the ingenuity of the human spirit.
Computers trade like never before. Computers continue to automate commerce taking out human inefficiencies and dependencies, allowing humans to focus on creating value elsewhere. This is a good thing, it drives progress. A powerful new technology pushing automation within commerce is blockchain, and the first target is the financial industry. It is amazing to think that just a few decades ago, the New York Stock Exchange would shut down every Wednesday only to process trades and settlements via papers couriered on bikes. The stock certificates would be physically carried between buildings on Wall Street every time a stock changed hands. This lead to the “Paperwork crisis of the 1960s” in 1968 when the volume of stocks traded rose threefold to 15 million shares per day. As commerce continues to climb in a global economy, so will the need for technologies like blockchain to service our economic activity.
Hybrids are the bedrock of modern day commerce. Today, someone has made a purchase on Amazon, and the order is being fulfilled by a fulfillment robot at one of Amazon’s warehouses. In Seattle, you can walk in and out of a Whole Foods with an automatic checkout, no need to stand in line. Information is the most precious good we have in the modern age. We ask personal questions to Google’s algorithm answering 3.5 billion times a day. Your personal insurance is determined by a robot. In other words, commerce today is filled with hybrids where a human on one side is working with a computer on the other. This hybrid combination will only grow in importance, it will play a crucial role for commerce to continue to prosper.
We learn like never before.
Biological intelligence has gotten us far. Very far. We have understood the Big Bang. We have inhabited Earth. We have built skyscrapers. We have come up with things like the Internet. All this with an intelligent biological machine running on 20 watts(9). Quite impressive, yet the human intellect that we have gained after millions of iterations is flawed and biased and cannot be trusted. Just take a look at these two figures in the Müller-Lyer illusion(10):
Ask yourself which horizontal line your brain immediately thought was longer than the other. Don’t lie. At second glance, you quickly realized that the horizontal lines are equally long.
Artificial intelligence is moving at unprecedented speeds. AI is going from a lot of systems capable of doing things as well or better than humans in a specific field – known as Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) – to systems capable of doing any intellectual task that a human can – known as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) – to finally arrive at systems that can outperform any human in any intellectual task – known as Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI). While state-of-the-art software currently hasn’t been able to pull off AGI, teams at Google Deepmind, OpenAI and the likes are closing in.
Hybrid intelligence is best described as the holy grail for software to feed the world. It is when biological and artificial intelligence starts merging. We have already started merging with machines, you are already a cyborg. Your phone is an extension of you, your social media is a digital version of you, and medical advances like pacemakers and LASIK are considered a normal part of our society. Similarly, brain-machine interfaces where a third digital layer will connect to your cortex and merge your biological intelligence with artificial intelligence will become natural. When hybrid intelligence hits the streets, which will take years (but not that many years), software is going to unleash our potential like none of us can imagine. Communicating with anyone will be as simple as thinking a thought, no verbal communication needed. A mental picture will be a memory stored in the cloud. Generally visualizing anything for someone else will be extremely accurate, something words could never achieve. You will be able to access all knowledge at all times as if you already knew, and the little voice inside your head, that could be your assistance weighing pros and cons in a difficult decision.
The future is bright. How software will be feeding the world is the topic of the book “Software is Feeding the World – Develop Your Organisation to Sustain”, which you can order on Amazon as ebook or paperback.