"The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger" by Marc Levinson

"The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger" by Marc Levinson

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book. What would you expect from a book about the history of shipping containers? I didn’t even know that it is possible to write a book about such a topic.

Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. I concluded that I won’t be disappointed because “The Box (referral program link)” was one of the books recommended by Bill Gates in 2013. He claims that the book “challenges commonly held views about business and the role of innovation.” That indeed is true, but let’s focus on the disruptive force of innovation.

The invention

What happens when a new invention does not improve the industry but forces it to morph in an entirely new form? Yes, the invention does force you to change. You can’t ignore it. You can either adapt to the new situation or die. You can ride the wave or fail miserably in a futile attempt to defend the status quo.

We may think that the software industry changes fast, but we have not seen a “breaking change” yet. Obviously, things have changed, but today networks work in the same way like in the 70s. Linux is more user-friendly, but if you learned to use it in the year 2000, you can still apply that knowledge today. Programming languages? We keep reinventing the same things over and over again.

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IT

Perhaps the “cloud” was disruptive? For sure, a lot has changed. Many companies no longer deploy their software on a “server” hidden under CEO’s desk. Some built their own clouds, some rent the computing power from other companies.

It was a big step, but we keep using the same tools. The database server is still there, it is just someone else’s problem now. All we have seen so far was a series of small steps, nothing that was a giant leap like the container in case of the shipping industry.

Disruption

If the software industry has not seen a real disruption yet, maybe it caused it somewhere else? What about Uber and taxi drivers? In some places, taxi drivers protest and claim that Uber takes away their jobs. In other areas, taxi drivers adopt the new way of getting clients and user UberTAXI. To me, it does not look very disruptive. At least as long as both Uber cars and taxis are controlled by humans.

There is one software-induced disruption coming. Self-driving cars. Personally, I hope that this disruption will occur sooner than we expect. Last week, Elon Musk announced the Summon feature in Teslas.

We have made another small step. We may continue to make the small steps and finally get to the destination. The manufactures of self-driving cars won’t even notice the disruption they caused. For others, it will look like an earthquake.

Self-driving cars have not yet become the equivalent of the shipping container in the 21 century. For sure, their impact on the economy and society is going to be huge. If you wonder what is going to happen when we finally start using them on a daily basis, read “The Box.”


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Bartosz Mikulski
Bartosz Mikulski * data scientist / software/data engineer * conference speaker * organizer of School of A.I. meetups in Poznań * co-founder of Software Craftsmanship Poznan & Poznan Scala User Group