Saturday, December 04, 2004

Trends in IT

A little bit of everything in this post. First of all, I forgot to note in my open source post that Microsoft seemed to validate some of the advantages of open source with the introduction of their shared source strategy. Read an article about it in Fortune today and was thereby reminded about it.

Today, I am linking the artist formerly known as Locke. I had a talk with him at 4 in the morning on a street when I was 15 and it was inspirational. But in the present, he is a game coder. And I recall how he said that many at his company refused offers to switch employers to EA because EA was a coding sweatshop. Well, EA has promised changes. More and more, I think we see that corporations can't have their cake and eat it too. You always get warm fuzzy feelings when a corporation's people are put in jail for price-fixing RAM. OK, maybe not, but there is relief in that we are trying to clamp down on corruption. But back to IT labour economics. The hours are s especially horrible in the coding profession, whether you work at EA or not. Despite not working at EA, Locke was telling me for the first few weeks how much compsci grads in general got shafted. :D I scream at the poor guy whenever I see him online at midnight...

PakG1: Don't tell me you're at work coding...
Locke: Yeah...

When you bring your sleeping bag to work, there is something seriously wrong there. But at least he's enjoying his job now, it seems. :)

The thing about EA coders and artists, they should at least be happy that their jobs aren't in danger. I had a long conversation with Minna one night about the automation of certain types of IT work. My opinions from that conversation still stand, although I don't think we actually disagreed with each other anyway (except on an emotional level). Let's face it, if you do administrative work, your work can be easily broken down into an algorithm and thereby replicated by a computer. You add no value when you're just an algorithm. The day when cashiers are unnecessary will be a sad day for many people who can't do much else, but it's inevitable, especially with the future filled with RFIDs. Excuse me if I seem cold. But you need to be able to create value, and that only comes from creativity; until weak AI is able to replicate the creativity of the human mind, only creativity, analysis, and design jobs will be safe. And it will be a LONG time before weak AI reaches that level of sophistication. However, this is not meant to be an analysis of Communist vs Capitalist systems. For now, suffice it to say that humans don't give themselves enough credit for creativity.

Speaking of AI, does anyone find this scary? Terminator, The Matrix, I, Robot, and many other movies all follow the same thesis: humanity builds infrastructure, infrastructure all automated machinery with AI, AI turns on humans. We should learn a lesson here. Q.E.D. Regarding other issues, I am not qualified to discuss the ethics of using robots in war. But when was I qualified to discuss anything anyway? So let's sidetrack a bit and discuss. It seems really unfair that one nation will have to risk the lives of their brave men and women to shoot at machines, while the soldiers of the other nation hide back in the bunker. I understand that the safety of the troops and success of a mission is always a primary goal, and technology already exists that gives a huge advantage to specific Western nations, but using robots really seems to overstep a boundary. One nation risks lives, the other doesn't. Something just doesn't smell right here.... I wonder what my friends in the US Army have to say about this subject.

But back to IT. Well, two quick things of note before I jump to the main course. This has to be the most innovative cell phone service option I've ever seen for a long time. I don't get drunk myself, but I've been with people who are drunk, and it's not a pretty sight. You learn things you JUST DON'T WANT TO KNOW. Toronto scarred my life, amcal. :p So I can imagine that many customers will be using this service feature in the future. As well, eBay has gone ballistic and let people advertise for specific stuff they want to buy. Now there's an interesting idea. I have no idea how the logistics would work out though; can you imagine how many people will be wanting to post ads? With that many ads posted, seriously, what's the probability that your ad will be viewed? I suppose somebody's BOUND to view it sooner or later, whatwith all the traffic that eBay gets. But still, it seems that the pool of prospected sellers is severely bottlenecked by the number of buyers.

OK, the news that made me want to write this post in the first place. Drum roll, please.

IBM is selling their PC division.

Well, it's about time! Let's face it, anybody who's stupid or crazy enough to stick around in the PC market has either mind-blowing inventory turnover (cough, Dell, cough) or red ink up the wazoo. PCs are no longer where it's at. Consumers don't need PCs anymore in the same way they used to need to the technology. Now it's just another appliance, a necessary commodity. Market maturity peaked a little while ago, I think, if it hasn't peaked already.

IBM is one of the companies for which I have a huge amount of respect. You know what their name stands for? International Business Machines. They originally made typewriters. Then the PC came along, which wiped away the typewriter industry, but they were able to adapt and take advantage of the next wave. Then the PC market got saturated, but they were already into servers. Then consulting was getting a good boom, and they were smart enough to get almagamate consulting efforts with their server business. And now they're getting into life sciences. IBM's ability to see, interpret, and take advantage of the future never ceases to amaze me. Of course, they've had their screw-ups, like thinking that the money was in the hardware they were making, and not signing an exclusive contract with Bill Gates. But IBM knows when it's time to change and has never feared doing so. I like that. I really can't stand fear of change.

Really. It bugs me.

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