I see two gaps get bigger over time: The gap between the rich and poor people and the gap between the tech-savvy people and tech-illiterate people. These gaps cause most social issues today. As a computer programmer for all my career, I feel obligated to help tech-illiterate people to understand tech, so that I can help with fixing the second gap. IMO, fixing the second may help with fixing the first. In the year 2020, who made most of the money, the answer is people who know tech deeply, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bitcoin fanboys and girls. On the other hand, Who lost the most money? Tech-illiterate people, Warren Buffet, and many wall street funds. So helping people to understand tech is big deal, but how? IMO, The easiest way for laymen to understand the power of tech is to understand the power of the computer loop.
People say, only two inventions that matter in human history, one is the wheel, the other is Computer/Internet. I will say, they are the same thing, cause they are both about looping, in other words, repeating the same process over and over again. But the process can be encoded in a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ manner, that’s why we have hard loops and soft loops.
People have been using what I call the ‘hard loop’ since maybe the beginning of our history. Humans know how to use the wheel since maybe 10000 years ago. Wheels do loops for one simple task, moving forward. About 300 years ago a guy named James Watt populated steam engines. With the power of fossil fuels, people started to wrap more complex tasks into loops, they encoded their expertise in steel parts, which took us to the era of machinery. Before the computer era, human wisdom was coded with hard tangible materials, usually steel, that’s why I call that loops ‘hard loop’. When the time came to around 100 years ago, human beings were so optimistic, because of the industrial revolution brought by hard loop, had the potential of solving poverty once for all. But the fact was, it did not. Instead of happiness, we were trapped in two world wars. Hard loops are not powerful or smart enough, not all expertise can be coded with steel, lots of work still needed to be done by hand. We need something smarter.
That’s where computers and software came in. In the early 19th century, People found a new material called semiconductor, which can be used for produce electronic components to hold two states 0(power off) and 1(power on). Surprisingly, people found it possible to describe any information with just 0 and 1. A new revolution came. People start to use machines to process information, we call those machines computers. So what is a ‘soft loop’? Soft loop is computer loop. Learning how to do looping is probably in every computer 101 course. Depending on which programming language you use, you may use keywords like ‘while’ or ‘for’ to do it. To give my definition, ‘soft loop’ is a loop done by software, exactly like the hard loop, it’s nothing but looping human expertise, but this time, the expertise is coded in software rather than steel.
If you say, wait, Peter, are you talking about automation aided by software. You will be right. The concepts are nothing new to mainstream, but still, I doubt mainstream people know how much we can wrap in the soft loops.
My definition is that high tech is computer loop plus AI.
High tech used to be nuclear power, robots, space shuttles, biotech, and more, but Let’s be honest for the past 40 years, people have not made real breakthroughs in the other areas except software. If you talk about high tech in the real world, it’s almost nothing but the software that I have in mind.
High tech is not so much about some surprising breakthroughs, it’s about standardization. Tech moves forward like this, first, we define a problem, then we form expertise solving the problem, later the best practice will be widespread, and become knowledge free for everybody to use. Such knowledge is called industrial standards. But before computers, people didn’t find standardization very attractive. Because the world is a big place, people think and do things differently, a one-fits-all process to solve a problem does not work so well. But when the computer came, things were different. NO.1 All computers think only in 1/0, they are the same. NO.2 They repeat things tirelessly day and night. So it makes more sense to standardize everything and get the same best practice run all over the world. Take Amazon as an example, it is not doing something new, but it is a high tech company because people always use software to repeat the best practices for everything. That also explains why high tech companies are always innovating fast because what they do every day is looking to improving the best ways to solve a problem then wrap them in computer loops. So In this sense what defines a high-tech company is whether you consider software is the soul of your business, rather than a component of your product. E.g Tesla is a high tech company. Toyota is not, even though Toyota cars also have code running.
AI is NOT soft loop. Soft Loop is computing repeating the same step by step recipe, AI is not this. Not everything can be done in a step by step way, say teaching a computer to do Go. AI(software 2.0) is to dig deep into big data, find the best path to achieve some goal. AI is as important as soft loop if not more. But since the soft loop is much easier to understand, I won’t talk about AI here. As long as people really understand the power of soft loop, they should already be passionate enough to all-in high tech, that’s not too late to learn AI by then.
To me, high tech is mostly about documenting best practice with code, and repeat the code.
My goal here is to convince you even the simple part of high tech, that is computer loop, has not released even 1 percent of its power to change the world, yes, even in the year 2020.
AI aside, Just the computer loops have not even reached their one percent potential. There are still 99.99 of the daily tasks that are not standardized, not to mention looped by computers. In China, people are building lots of apartment buildings, but look, the process is still largely by human hands. People do want customization from time to time, but most people just want the best products at the best price. That’s where standardization shines. When reaching economy of scale, standardization can bring us good products at a low price.
Tech favors big. The bigger a company gets, the more willing it gets to get the most out of the computer loop. Big companies tend to invest more in researching the best practices for building something. In the high-tech world, I don’t think competition should always be encouraged. More resources should just flow to the best player in a given area. For example, nowadays Tesla is rich. It can do things that smaller companies can not. The idea that ‘the machine to build machines’ means you want to build your own robots. Tesla was able to buy a new robotic company, it was not something that a small company can afford. The world does not need a second and slightly inefficient Amazon, nobody will use the second-best search engine. I believe it’s logical to see only one company in more and more industries in the future. If we ever need a second company to coexists in one industry, that’s is for other reasons, say, political balancing or backing up.
The use of computer loop will be extended to society management too. Turned out, human wisdom is not just for building things, but also for building a better society. The rise of Blockchain and Smart Contract demonstrates that many people are willing to run our society based on standards and clear rules. If you understand the power of the soft loop. You won’t consider blockchain a joke.
Everything has just got started, big tech companies have the potential to get much bigger, new wild ideas may come true. People don’t understand high tech see bubbles, tech-savvy people see the beer.
Hopefully, I can get you become passionate about the potential of the dumb part of high tech, namely computer loop, so you can sense the power of high tech in general. The possibilities are simply limitless. So you will understand why people are so passionate about tech companies like Tesla, and Blockchain projects like Bitcoin. Lastly, I will encourage you to learn to coden, invest in big tech giants, and help building more efficient industries powered by human wisdom wrapped by computer loop.