One of the most interesting talks at this week's Dell World was a panel with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Andrew McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson, authors of The Second Machine Age. It was a fascinating — and frightening — talk about what's to come.
You Can Make Any Job You Want
Ohanian and co-founder Steve Huffman started with something called MMM, a service that would let you order things like coffee on your phone while you approached a Starbucks and have it waiting for you when you arrived. A venture capitalist crapped all over the idea — only to call the pair back and say they'd get funding if they built almost anything else. Ohanian and Huffman were told to fix a problem they personally had; in this case, it was finding news on the Web pertinent to their interests. The VC funded them to create the "Front Page for the Internet," and Reddit was born.
Ohanian's point: Given the tools available today, unlike no time before in history, people can basically create whatever job they want and find a way to make money doing it. Authors can write and sell through Amazon without getting a publisher. Jewelers can create amazing things a sell through a variety of online sites. Movie makers can get their pictures crowd-funded. Coders can live off the apps they create. Ohanian gave specific examples of students funding their college education with the passive revenue earned by writing apps.
People who can code will be the wizards in this magical age, Ohanian says, because their products have little cost and near unlimited revenue potential. Physical offerings can't match that. It's a heck of a pitch to get kids into programing — and I'll bet it had more than a few adults in the audience rethinking their career plans.
McAfee and Brynjolfsson mentioned Google's $1 million learning machine, which can figure out whether a photo is a face, a body or a cat. (Apparently, there are a lot of cats.) This was pretty amazing — until someone built a $20,000 workstation with off-the-shelf-parts and replicated the experience.
Predicting the Second Machine Age
Meanwhile, it was just as interesting to hear the authors disagree as it was to hear then make more predictions. In the early part of the last decade, for example, they said that, while robots will take jobs, they wouldn't be driving cars or dealing with people's problems. Then the authors showed pictures taken a few years ago of themselves riding in Google's self-driving car and of robotic tools that help people work through problems. They went on to say that robots won't take over creative and innovative jobs. I was left wondering why, given how wrong they were last cycle.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.