Who Is Eating What, If Software Ultimately Eats All?

Software Is Made By People.
The World Is Made Of People.
Software Is Eating The World.

Who Is Eating What?

The easy answer, according to Internet lore, is most likely “soylent green”.

Image of pea-soup green liquid being poured into a bowl. Caption: 'National health care is people serving people.' Meme: Keep calm: Tuesday is Soylent Green Day.
Soylent Green: National health care is people serving people. Keep calm! Tuesday is Soylent Green day.

Although the syllogism above is intended as a joke, real implications have arrived in ways that most people failed to anticipate. Even prescient minds like the one residing in Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen’s egg-shaped cranium may not have foreseen what software could one day evolve to be.

Judging from their behavior, most non-techie people still seem mostly unaware that the digital world (and therefore, the real world as well) is rapidly shifting beneath their feet.

The speed of change is so quick and (resisting the buzzword “disruptive”) unprecedented that many software engineers themselves have been taken by surprise. These trends have the relatively closed world of programmers and systems designers questioning their most closely-guarded values. Those who were there in the early days are now taking a hard look at how things have changed since the inception of the Internet as a popular medium.

Science fiction’s dystopian fantasies are no longer far-fetched. In fact, we see manifestations of this in systems as widely accepted as Facebook — and in programmers’ public collaboration tools like Github and Sourceforge.

If software is eating the world, a science fiction writer or artist would do well to consider the impact of software in their future-oriented stories. We may not be able to predict the next leap in telecommunications, but be we can extrapolate privacy concerns and their likely outcomes if present-day events continue along current lines.

Comments below are derived from this conversation (click here).

Programmers speak on the beginnings of a not-so-brave new world order

I’ve been a little uneasy about the knee-jerk tendency to resort to GitHub for everything, myself. If it were part of a Mozilla-like foundation, maybe, but it’s someone’s for-profit company; who knows how they will change in the future? The history of the consumer web is rife with companies that sell out their ostensible core principles, and, more importantly, their users’ data when the business tide turns against them.

I agree with the author that GitHub cannot be trusted. They already have been removing repositories because of political reasons.

(Ed. Note: “C plus equality”… A satirical feminist programming language, or as another user phrased it, “Pages and pages of barely coherent ranting against straw feminism, some of it in the form of pseudo code.”

See also: this subthread (click here) for details.)

I keep thinking about how my generation fought for “Information wants to be free”. However, I really meant for the people in power to share their information. This generation seems to think it means “give all my information to the people in power for free”. I was hoping for decentralisation, instead we got even more centralisation. Not sure how this happened.

GitHub is actually not the one that bothers me the most. I’ve got a couple of personal projects running there. But gmail creeps me the fuck out. I’ve got 8 years worth of mail on a personal server. I’m also Facebook-averse.

I am not so worried about access so much as about the unknown.

Example – you’ve always been able to put pictures on Facebook. But who would have guessed that they’d start running automated facial recognition on each and every one, without asking first? Lots of people are not okay with this, but your recourse is limited once you’re attached to the ecosystem. And it came very much out of left field one day.

I don’t know what kind of nefarious stuff is possible with github, but to me, that “I don’t know,” and the implicit trust you have to give this corporation in order to use the service is exactly the problem. Maybe there is something that works against your interests buried in the TOS that has no application yet, but will allow them to do things with your code (or maybe not your code – your name? brand? reputation? something else?) at some point in the future.

This isn’t to say I avoid it completely. But if I were in charge of a really big code project, I would certainly have to make a considered decision first.

Why am I not using GitHub?

Simple: The code I work on is proprietary and copyrighted, and storing it on someone else’s servers is like sticking our chin out asking to get popped one.

“There is no cloud, only other people’s computers.”

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