In 1980, Steve Jobs explained in a filmed presentation why technology like Artificial Intelligence won’t take away jobs. While the video may be from 35 years ago, Jobs’ explanation of technology and human efficiency is amazingly still relevant today.
“We are building tools that amplify a human ability” said the young Jobs, not only foretelling the future of Apple but also offering a critical commentary on the role of software today. Two words here are particularly significant: tool and amplify. Technology does not replace the work of humans, but can enable individuals to complete tasks with greater efficiency and accuracy.
As an example, Jobs talks about the evolution of the personal computer. In the beginning of the personal computing revolution, few people had the programming skills to use a computer. In fact, experts needed to set up computers for end users. Programs were basic, with user interfaces that would seem very non-user friendly by today’s standards. He saw all of this as a “barrier” to overcome, for both people and the industry, because this kept the power of computing in the hands of a few. Remember, this video took place back in 1980.
“Right now if you buy a computer system and you want to solve one of your problems, we [the computer industry] immediately throw a big problem right in the middle of you and your problem, which is learning how to use the computer. Right? Substantial problem to overcome. Once you overcome that, it’s a phenomenal tool. But there is a barrier of having to overcome that problem.”
Today, the drawing insight from data analysis faces the same barrier. Those with the knowledge and tools to draw insight from data is limited to data scientists or others in similar job descriptions. As data volumes continue to grow as does the need for data-supported decisions, relying on a few to analyze data can be detrimental to a business. More and more companies are looking to adopt tools that incorporate the company’s best business practices while enabling non-technical users to analyze complex data sets instantaneously.
Steve Job’s vision was that anyone should be able to setup and use a PC, and I believe that the future of AI tools are the same. Systems will be self-service, easy to use, and will make complex data accessible to anyone in real-time. Jobs said that “something special happens with one computer and one user.” He was referring to the way in which software can amplify human ability. Again, although the speech was in the 1980s, Jobs could easily have been speaking about today with the growth in smart machines, which are able to dialog, reason and explain, all with the goal of boosting human performance.
You can watch the entire presentation below, starting at 4:45, where Jobs begins to talk about computers and efficiency: