Software is Eating the Individual

The Embedded Human

The genes of my grandchildren are entirely predicated upon algorithmic efficacy. Which is to say, my wife and I met on a dating app. 

It is remarkable to consider that if some engineer in Bangalore had just slightly altered an app’s sorting function, my wife’s beautiful smile wouldn’t have appeared on my screen, and I never would’ve swiped right. We held exactly 0 friends in common, lived in different cities, and there is zero chance we would’ve met somewhere.

Still though, I don’t entirely credit my potential progeny to technology. When I first started using the apps I found that they were unable to truly forecast if I would like someone, so I decided to develop an optimized methodology for that first in-person meeting. It went like this:

“👋 How’s your apocalypse going?” (this was during the 2020 Covid summer)”

Potential future mate responds with something and asks how mine is going

“Good, I’ve discovered the cure for Covid.” 

They ask, what is it?

“Ice cream with a cute person. Friday?”

Gives me their number

This probably had like a 40% success rate so feel free to steal it if you are lonely. 

I know this example is kitschy but stick with me. My whole life changed because of one stupid little piece of software. I wasn’t even a paying customer! It is a spooky level of power for Hinge to have. The application was a lever that lifted my entire life to a better place with one little flick of the finger on a 6 inch pane of glass.

I’m starting to think that software changing things isn’t limited to marriage. I manage my powerlifting program app via TrainHeroic. My hike for this weekend? Alltrails. Music, diet, journal, household chores, groceries, all managed via various pieces of software.

In 2011, Marc Andreeson published his seminal essay, “Why Software is Eating the World.” In it, he argued that software would consume every industry. “More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.”

He goes on and on, listing industry after industry, that was/would be consumed by software-first companies. He was absolutely right. Software has transformed every major industry over the last 10 years. However, he did not go far enough. 

Software is consuming industries but it is also consuming individuals.

What it means to be human is shifting. We are becoming what I call “embedded humans.” Our interactions with the world are determined by the software that we use. Software is being embedded into our identity and individuality.

“But good sir,” you may object, “the tools we use have always changed who we are.” And you would be totally right! However, up to this point in human history, almost all of these goods have been centered around physical augmentation. The vast majority of products were meant to increase the labor capacity of a person’s hands. Now though, most technology is doing mental automation. Rather than increase the strength of an arm, we are directly embedding software into our cognitive processes to automate away mental labor. This is something new. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if there is any part of your life or activity that doesn’t involve software somehow. 

This arguably makes the creation of thoughtful software the most important task facing the technology sector today. Understanding what software is and what it will look like in the future is both a business and a moral imperative. So…let’s talk about it.

Do Humans Dream of Crypto Sheep

Philip Dick once wrote, “Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans... If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn't we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others?”

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