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11 predictions for the future of programming

Peter Wayner | Jan. 10, 2017
Our coding crystal ball clues you into the twists and turns your programming career may take in the years ahead

Autonomous transportation is here to stay

It’s not cars alone. Some want to make autonomous planes that aren’t encumbered by the need for roads. Others want to create autonomous skateboards for very lightweight travel. If it moves, some hacker has dreams of telling it where to go.

Programmers won’t control what people see on the screen. They’ll control where people go and how they interact with the world. And people are only part of the game. All of our stuff will also move autonomously.

If you want dinner from a famous chef downtown, an autonomous skateboard with a heated chamber may bring it to your house. If you want your lawn mowed, an autonomous lawn mower will replace the neighborhood kid.

And programmers can use all of the cool ideas they had during the first internet revolution. If you thought pop-up ads were bad on the internet, wait until programmers are paid to divert your autonomous roller skates past the kitchen vent of a new restaurant. Hungry yet?

The law will find new limits

The ink was barely dry on the Bill of Rights when debates over what it means for a search of our papers to be reasonable began. Now, more than 200 years later, we’re still arguing the details.

Changes in technology open up new avenues for the law. A few years ago, the Supreme Court decided that vehicle tracking technology requires a warrant. But that’s only when the police plant the tracker in the car. No one really knows what rules apply when someone subpoenas the tracking data from Waze, Google Maps, or any of the hundreds of other apps that cache our locations.

What about influencing how the machines operate? It’s one thing to download data, but it’s frightfully tempting to change the data, too. Is it fair for the police (or private actors) to forge documents, headers, or bits? Does it matter if the targets are true terrorists or simply people who’ve parked too long in a no-parking spot without feeding the meter?

These are only a few of the big questions for developers in the years ahead. Software architects need to anticipate these issues during design. They need to think of questions around privacy and the law before any code is written. If they don’t, there’s a good chance the company will get blindsided by these issues later -- conceivably at massive scale.

Moreover, code itself is a version of law. Programmers define what software can and can’t do. When we write code, we are in effect defining the freedoms and limitations of one little corner of the world.

Containers will rule

In theory, we shouldn’t need containers. Your executable should simply run, and the operating system should manage permissions and scheduling so that all the executables get along. Alas, that dream is receding faster than ever. Fewer and fewer executables live alone. Many need differing versions of various libraries or other special accommodations. Even “run anywhere” technologies like Java get into trouble because there are so many different versions of the virtual machine.


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