Here’s an idea that you won’t see every day: are you a teen interested in computers and technology? If so, don’t code.
Don’t get me wrong, coders do have value in today’s society. Legions of software programmers have allowed people to do virtually everything they need just from the home screen of their smart phone. They can earn money by driving for Lyft or Uber, eat by ordering food from Postmates or Doordash, catch up with their friends on Instagram or Snapchat, and catch up on “Friends” the TV show on Netflix or Hulu. Each of those apps is a multibillion-dollar business, providing opportunities for people that would have been unimaginable only 20 years ago.
And I understand the appeal: you can potentially change the world while earning around $105,000 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But despite all of this, coding is not the way to go.
Instead, the modern pace of technological innovation demands people who understand modern technologies from a different lens. These people focus on the issues that technology creates, issues related to privacy and fake news and content moderation. Because for all the apps and websites that are being created, if we don’t understand the issues being raised and the risks involved and try to mitigate them, society could be worse, much worse, than if the apps were never made in the first place.
A prime example of this unchecked development played out in my AP Computer Science Principles class last year. One of my classmates wanted to work on coding Artificial Intelligence systems, and had already programmed a few neural networks on his own, using them for side projects, like making a version of the classic arcade game Pong. His goal was to create the first General Purpose Artificial Intelligence, or GPAI.
The way he explained it, a well-made GPAI could learn to do anything it was told to. Sounds great, right? But in reality, this technology in the wrong hands could be disastrous. It could start a war, steal trade secrets, or even invite that uncle you’ve never liked to your holiday party. That is why development on these types of projects must be slow, cautious, and understanding of the risks.
Big companies should be cautious as well. Facebook’s original motto was “Move Fast and Break Things,” and that’s what they did. But on their mission to connect the world into one big social network, they moved too fast and broke too many things, largely because they didn’t have the foresight to figure out the risks associated with their actions.
That is why not everyone should learn to code. There is no doubt that our lives have been greatly improved by the apps we use every day and our social interactions have been positively impacted by the ease at which we can stay connected and share information.
And it is both exciting and beneficial that there will be a steady stream of new ideas, apps and websites coming out for the foreseeable future. But hopefully not everyone who has an interest in computers and technology’s impact on society will only look to coding and creating as the way to satisfy that interest. We also need people to focus on the philosophical issues, the regulations, and the ethics of what the coders are doing.