Tag Archives: automation

Programmers wiped out by robots

There are 3.5 million truck drivers in the US. They will all be gradually replaced by robots in the next few years, and then we will have a massive bloodbath caused by 3.5 million (no offense) low-skilled, unemployed people hunting for food.

From their perspective, this may look unrealistic – heavy driving seems like a really taxing and complex activity: it demands lots of attention, it has many special cases, it often requires reading social cues from other humans that only humans can understand. Yet, the switch to robots (and the ensuing social cataclysm) look inevitable in short few years.

In my line of work, I’ve been long puzzled by a similar issue. Why in the field of computer science and engineering, which is ultimately governed by the physics of the circuits, switches, math and formal logic that stems from that, why so much of the routine daily work programming those soul-less machines involves so much of: human judgement, uncertainty, doubt, debates/flame wars over “patterns”, and straight up insane (for any other engineering line of work) rates of errors, crashes and bugs?

I mean, it’s hard to imagine a modern-built physical bridge that just crashes “because bugs”. Or take air travel: in the US, 0.2 deaths per 10 billion passenger-miles for the first decade of this century. For the whole second decade – 0 deaths (almost).

Modern planes are heavily computerized, is that software written by some kind of a different breed of humans than, say, web software? Because my online banking from Citi goes down every week, and it’s a freaking banking service with the same use cases since the 14th century, repeated many times daily by 7000 banks in the US, nowhere near as complicated as the software that’s automatically, near-flawlessly flying and landing the jets in this country.

But wait, the higher are the regular software stakes, the bigger seems the reliance on human judgement. “Our web service is facing unique performance challenges and only the team XYZ has enough experience to scale it to that level.” Mind you, human programmers still haven’t sorted out if something as long-used as OOP is even a viable concept – some say that it is an unmaintainable disaster, a non-starter, others have been building stable systems with it for decades. With stubborn opinions so polarized, mutually exclusive in a field, again, governed by the laws of physics, it seems kind of very wrong that so much of the programming and design is still performed manually by fickle, biased mortals.

I don’t see any replacement yet. But maybe I’m just a truck driver.