[book review] James Whittaker's Little Book of the Future

James Whittaker’s "Little book of the future" (referral program link) is precisely what I expected. I knew he was going to describe something that perfectly matches my opinion about the future. I knew that he was going to depict a bright future built by humans in cooperation with intelligent machines. I am not disappointed.

Data — the world-changing power

In the first chapter, the author calls data skills “the ultimate evolutionary advantage.” I couldn’t agree more. His opinion is based on the observation that data is the cause of nearly every technological invention. Not only 20-century inventions but also ancient and pre-historic inventions.

It is sad that people ignore it so often. There are companies which talk a lot about being data-driven but don’t do anything to actually make data-driven decisions. They continuously postpone all machine learning project because there is always something more comfortable to do.

Companies which plan to use data at some point in the future but not right now are are like people who always tell you that they are going to start running tomorrow or quit smoking, also tomorrow.

Disruption changes the game. It moves the cheese. It shifts the balance of power. It created advantage for some and removes advantage from others. When people and organizations are slow to adapt to the new disruptive technology, they are left behind.

People who cannot keep pace with data will not survive. They are like cavemen who could not notice weather patterns or understand herd migration. Such cavemen starved to death. If you are one of those people, James Whittaker’s book may help you change your mind.



Getting ahead of disruption

According to the author, both artificial intelligence and Internet of Things are disruption we can use to our advantage. Those are not things that will be available in the future, they are here right now. If you start using AI and IoT today, you are already a few years behind a tremendous number of people. On the other hand, if you start today, your future will be way better than the future of people who are planning to “do A.I.” someday.

Taking advantage of disruptive technologies is not enough. We have to do it responsibly. Often, we hear opinions that A.I. will kill us all. It does not mean you can ignore this technology or hide somewhere. In James’ opinion:

This means that we need to get good at data. The more of us who understand data and the potential of the disruptive innovation that is currently playing out, the better chance we’ll have of making informed decisions about how to handle the machines that we will inevitably build.

Man and machine

We may wonder what is left for humans? What will we do when machines are as good at everything as we are (or even better). James thinks that there are only two things the A.I. will not master: the ability to code and the ability to be creative.

I believe such opinion about coding is just wishful thinking and the machines will be way better programmers than we are. Nevertheless, I have to agree with James’ opinion about creativity because, as he pointed out, creativity is the ability to create something from nothing and “Machines learn from data. They cannot learn from its absence.”

James Whittaker ended the talk linked above with an impressive vision of the future:

Perhaps, using the power of our minds amplified by those magic machines, we will discover that we were not meant to go to heaven at all, but through technology, create heaven for ourselves. Perhaps, the meaning of life isn’t given to us by a higher power. Perhaps, we use our technology to evolve into that higher power.

The book is a fantastic inspiration for everyone who believes we can build such future, read it ;)


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Bartosz Mikulski
Bartosz Mikulski * big data engineer * conference speaker * co-founder of Software Craftsmanship Poznan & Poznan Scala User Group