Rafi Khan

Senior Software Engineer | Ottawa, Canada

Supporting society through innovation

Software is more than automation

I am a big fan of Alan Kay, smalltalk and the dynabook. These are powerful ideas from the 1970s that showed us what it means to have a computer-literate society. I don’t just mean checking emails, word processing, and media consumption. These are interesting and bring with them efficiencies. However, they do not make use of the computer as anything more than an automation tool. We’re not doing anything fundamentally different with computers, than before they existed.

In my mind, this means we have digitized our processes, but we haven’t really gone through the personal computing revolution. Going from writing with a pen and paper, to using a type writer and then a digital type writer (microsoft word) doesn’t give us a new medium, not really. The kind of change I am thinking about can be seen in gaming. There is a fundamental difference between a board game and a computer game. The board game is the same for everyone, because it is limited by a static medium. The board game is made up of printed papers, constructed pieces and rules. None of these can change in reaction to the environment. Software is different, it is dynamic.

The real power of software and computing is unlocked when we are able to increase the number of software literate people in the world. I want to see non technical people be able to solve problems using computers. Excel, autocad, paint fit this line of thinking.

If you want to learn more, please take a look at the paper below. It tries to understand why software hasn’t lived up to its expectations.