February 25, 2019

Reflections on 40 years in IT

Sheppard Narkier

Sheppard Narkier
Sr. Principal - Solution Marketing - Interconnection Oriented Architecture/Equinix

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On May 8, 2018 I completed 40 years in Information Technology, (IT). For me it is a milestone worth reflecting upon.

My biggest realization - I carry at my hip a smart phone with more computing and storage power than 300,000 square feet of 1978 technology. That area is about the size of TWO of your average big box stores, or 13 stories in the Empire State Building. The concept is staggering. This article is about putting that change into perspective.

Many people work in a profession for 40 years or more, so why do I feel compelled to write about this milestone? The main reason is the degree to which this profession, the many industries it affects, and the world has changed as a direct consequence of the rapid acceleration of technology. That pace is not slowing but is increasing and affecting every aspect of our lives. So how big is that change?

Clearly there are implications for such rapid change on the economy, politics and culture. The cultural aspect might be the most profound and least understood since the way we learn, interact, work and live are being radically altered. Let’s explore some of these big trends

Technology

  • Since technology drives the changes I will start here, for those less technical, feel free to go to the next theme if I have made this too esoteric, but try to stick with me here.
  • Finding and fixing application problems is more difficult than ever as the layers of software and the way they communicate make it difficult for most people to find out what is going wrong on their device or application
  • Our mobile devices are incredibly packed with a “room full” of technology, where user expectations for performance grow ever greater
  • Even as applications become easier to build and update, there is a greater need to integrate business and data flows securely and across regions, and this daunting challenge makes it hard for many companies to use new technology effectively
  • AI was a pipe dream in 1978, but advances in computing created a renaissance for some branches of mathematics which were considered curiosities or had limited scope. New mathematical discoveries are at an all-time high and feed a virtuous cycle, exposing new methods that are implemented to rapidly advance AI, which drives the need for more computing power.
  • AI applications are evolving faster every year, teaching themselves without human aid, but they still need data. The new “machine learning” and “deep learning” approaches are driven by massive amounts of data, terabytes and beyond. This accumulation and processing of data generates its own problems as it is poorly organized and raw, requiring a lot of pre-processing work. How we organize and use that data to train AI is as much a human morals and values question as it is a technical challenge. Who trains the algorithms is more important than ever as evidence of unconscious bias in automated recruiting, loan and credit approvals keep appearing in the headlines.
  • Security is more important than ever and more difficult to guarantee, your entire identity can be stolen, not just your assets.
  • What is real is now in question when videos can be realistically faked.
  • We have so much computing power that we can analyze one person’s DNA in about 2 hours, in the year 2000 that took about 6 months.

Economic

  • First and foremost, 250 of the Fortune 500 have disappeared off the list since 2000. These are not mom and pop stores, these are multinational and multibillion-dollar companies. Some have been bought, others have just faded away to irrelevance. Those companies that embraced technology as a strategic enabler have fared better than those who sat on their prior success. Bottom line is that what used to be sustainable advantage can often become a liability quickly.
  • We are more deeply connected at every level across the globe than ever before. Isolated turbulence in one region can cascade across the globe in a day affecting markets that can decimate retirement plans in a week. We live in a market of constant over reaction.
  • 3D printing will affect how and what is shipped and how we will outsource manufacturing. More importantly it will change the value of what is to be made to a highly customized products as opposed to mass customization. More people can be part of the entire manufacturing process, recreating the cottage industry.
  • Legitimately, we should all be worried about Big brother. But sadly, we have given up our life’s secret’s for a series of $10 coupons as our data has been collected, refined and sold

Learning

  • Reading will always be important, but more of our complex problems are best examined visually, and the younger generations are more visual by nature.
  • Our world is more complex, and Multi-dimensional critical thinking is required, not a “nice to have”. Any of our most profound challenges involve complex adaptive systems that can react to changes in unexpected ways. We need to change how we learn, communicate and teach.
  • We need to UNLEARN as much as we need to learn. We need to break bad mental habits and associations in order to be more open to what is possible. We are not naturally wired to unlearn.
  • Patterns, large and small are pervasive in complex systems and understanding them, helps us resolve problems better. Continual curiosity is critical. We all must become active life long learners and pass this on to our progeny

How we work

Politics and Power

  • New “deep fake” videos are the nightmares that emerge from Orwell’s 1984, where doctored photos are replaced by AI generated videos and audio are becoming more prevalent. These will be designed to fit a narrative and will be released just before elections or key political events to sow doubt
  • Those who hold the gates to access and the data, rule, plain and simple. That those who rule can shape reality as they see fit is being tested now and it isn’t pretty and will get worse if measures are not taken

Cultural

  • Multiculturalism is here to stay. You no longer need air travel, or await overseas shipments
  • This creates new opportunities and new “perceived threats”
  • We are software. New tests show how fluid gene expressions are and that includes the manifestation of gender

Science and Health

  • The accelerating advances in science have led us to printing organs that will not be rejected and are creating targeted immuno-therapy. Life extension is inevitable. This is where politics and power come in, will most people get a chance to benefit from these advances. It seems unlikely, yet imagine if most of the world could be truly productive because they were not diseased, or saddled with permanent impairments
  • We will soon find extraterrestrial and extra-solar-system life. How will our perceptions of who we are and our place in universe be affected by this?
  • WE ARE SOFTWARE as more tests show with each year, this affects how we treat illnesses, fix physical impairments and might weigh in on whether we are ‘downloadable”.

THIS IS THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG, I barely scraped the surface on any one of these topics.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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