Tech industry needs a human dimension

Karim Raslan, Ceritalah USA

Posted at Nov 07 2016 01:28 AM

Michael Hari, 22, completed a three-month coding boot camp instead of finishing his degree and now works as a software engineer in Silicon Valley.

Surabaya-born, (but Los Angeles-raised) Michael Hari is a kinetic 22-year-old software programmer. When he talks, the room ripples with energy, his language rich in aphorisms and tech-speak. 

For Michael, a “church is a campus” and “…faith is not the absence of doubt, it is the presence of belief.” There is no one way to earn a ticket to enter the Silicon Valley with its USD100, 000 plus starting salaries and extensive perks. 

Degrees and “know-who” don't count for much and hipsters, as we know, shun hierarchies. 

Instead, as Michael suggests: "You have to be good at what you do [and] have the curiosity to solve problems. Your ability will speak for itself."
So instead of finishing his degree, Michael, chose to enroll in a 3-month intensive coding “boot-camp” run in rented spaces – one of many such programs facilitated by the leading tech giants in the Valley. 

Of course, these coding boot-camps are slightly at odds with the region's traditional educational backbone, Stanford University with its vast resources (USD22 billion in endowments) and spectacular academic record. 

Certainly, Stanford has been an immutable presence for generations of Bay Area tech industry players from Hewlett-Packard to Oracle, Apple, Facebook and Snapchat. 

Moreover, success begets success. 

Every entrepreneur wants to be another Mark Zuckerberg while every venture capitalist hopes to find the next “unicorn.” 

This in turn, has strengthened the US’s dominance in the global tech industry. 

Today, 7 of the top 10 largest tech companies are American. But this dominance will inevitably give rise to resentment and attendant problems as corporations such as Google face regulatory and tax challenges both in the EU and even in Indonesia. 

For that matter: is the tech bubble sustainable itself? 

The overnight good fortune of some of these techies have led to many start-ups devoting their resources to tackle “First World Problems” like incremental improvements on mobile apps, when perhaps more can and should be done in areas like healthcare and education. 

Worse still, the instant success has led techies to feel “entitled”, breeding a culture of arrogance and ignorance. 

Indeed, many have no interest in the upcoming Presidential polls. 

In this fast moving world, it's easy for techies to lose themselves. 

Even Michael is a little-shamefaced about the obsession with privileges: "If you plug away from the source, you will begin to question yourself, you have to put a lot of effort to stay true.”   

However, the rapidity of technological change—augmented reality, artificial intelligence and robotics—may well start undermining certain fundamentals. 

For example, what happens when robots and apps can replace humans? Will we be made redundant? What would be our purpose in life? 

Will we be given stipends from government just to exist? Of course, in the end it depends on how one uses technology. 

Over the decades, technology has proven itself to be able to do more good than harm. 

But the transition from one technological era to the next can be difficult and disorientating. Look at how Uber’s fleet of driverless cars could threaten the entire auto industry. Service industry jobs are increasingly vulnerable. 

Who needs workers to man call-centres or accounting and legal offices when a robot can do the job just as well? 

So as technology destroys jobs, leaving many without gainful employment, how will it fill the void in terms of the 'meaning' in life? Perhaps then Michael's faith-based tech-dom will come in particularly useful? 

Obama - cover of wired magazine

Certainly, we are not alone in asking these questions. US President Barrack Obama in a recent issue of the tech magazine “Wired” talks about his passion and commitment to science and innovation. 

Whilst there is no doubt as to the financial value of what the Silicon Valley has wrought and the way it far surpasses anything that China could ever evolve, the President's childlike trust in science lacks greater moral and social depth. 

Technology has been all about incremental improvements in applications. What will be needed in years to come is a greater emphasis on the human dimension. 

Basically, we have to start asking ourselves about what the point of all these developments are? 

How will they improve mankind's existence?