The evolution of Information Technology

As we have noted, technological innovation comes seldom without resistance, be it from legacy technologies and business models, or in the defence of the entrenched human position. “Will we be needed in the future?” asked Bill Joy in a famous article in Wired Magazine, contemplating the eventual droidian takeover of the planet. Our more salient fears concern robots – no doubt due to their anthropomorphic characterization in popular media. Yet the fear of machines is perhaps misdirected. We might show more foresight in fearing our books and plays and works of art – or any other objectification of knowledge you choose to think of. As the power of information technology increases – the relative influence of our computing machinery diminishes. Does that sound confusing? The evolution of IT, and many other technologies demonstrates readily that if there really was a struggle between machines and the data they work with, machines would be the losers – hands down.

Primitive machines place heavier constraints on what goes into them and what can come out, while sophisticated machines allow much greater flexibility at both ends. We should not look at technological progress merely in terms of increased power, speed and output, but also in measures of reduced distortion in the goods processed. The elimination of costly pre-process modifications on the raw materials of manufacturing is a keystone of industrial efficiency. When applied to information technology, this translates to the ability to work with our data as it is, without subjection to the contortions caused by stringent media constraints or grammatical, syntactical, or semantic rearrangement. We are entering an age where a modern purveyor of IT does not tell their customer what she must do to get her data to work with their product, but rather asks what they must do to service her data as it is.

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