Below the API

As society becomes increasingly digitized, the way we work is fundamentally changing.

This is most obvious in the gig economy, where workers often don't have a manager they report to. They have an app.

15 years ago, cab drivers needed a local dispatcher to instruct them where to go. Now, programmers' code pairs them with a rider and even provides a specific route to take.

Peter Reinhardt pointed out this stripping away of middle management back in 2015. Jobs increasingly fall into one of two categories: Either you tell computers what to do for a living or they tell you what to do.

Reinhardt describes this stratification as "above and below the API," which stands for "application programming interface." It refers to the software layer between two applications that allows them to talk to each other.

APIs are powerful, because they're part of what enable us to abstract away problems, making future innovation easier.

But when a human is effectively on the other side of that API, not another piece of software, the fabric of our society starts to change on a foundational level.

What happens when computers are given increasing levels of autonomy? And when you pair that autonomy with "real-world APIs," what happens to our communities when more and more of our jobs are managed by instructions we've given to a computer?

These questions will remain unanswered for quite some time. But significant change is coming, and there are two ways we can approach it.

On the one hand, we can dig our heels in and resist this evolution in labor. Certainly, some caution is merited, given the inherent risks involved in such profound change and the unknowns surrounding artificial intelligence.

But we can also see it as a generational opportunity to rethink how work gets done, how resources get distributed, and what kind of world we want to live in.

In other words, we have a chance to reprogram society – hopefully for the better.

Let's not waste it.

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