For those who are feeling unsatisfied with their jobs for whatever reason, as if there wasn’t already enough reason for wanting to get out of the rat race, I recently came across this concept of “above/below the API” and I found it at once both interesting and alarming.
Venkat Rao from Ribbonfarm puts it best when he describes it like this:
There lies the terrifying structural boundary of our times — the API. Today, you’re either above the API or below the API. You either tell robots what to do, or are told by robots what to do.
After seeing that, I had to do further research on the topic.
What is “the API?”
My searching led me to this fantastic article by Peter Reinhardt.
According to Reinhardt, “the API” refers to the:
Trend in Silicon Valley startups to create a software layer in industries that were traditionally pure human services. Uber and Lyft have created software layers in the taxi industry, 99designs Tasks in the visual design industry, Homejoy in the cleaning industry, and so on. These new software services employ armies of human workers, optimizing their output, productivity and quality while driving price down.
What does this mean?
What this means is that plenty of jobs that used to fall under the category of “middle management” are becoming eliminated and replaced by software and algorithms.
This in turn dramatically reduces the upward mobility / career progression of many people who aspire for these traditionally “comfortable” middle management positions.
What’s more is as you move down the value chain, millions of people now become “extensions of the algorithm” or merely the physical world executors (“arms and legs”) of the algorithm’s (“the brain”) commands.
This means their “jobs” will just be repetitive and machine-like, with no career progression possible.
A good example of this given by Reinhardt is Uber, the increasingly ubiquitous ridesharing service that is disrupting the 100+ year old taxi industry.
Uber has a mobile app (UI) that talks to their servers (API). Every time a driver gets an “instruction” from the API he or she will follow those instructions and go to point A to pick up a customer and transport them to point B in exchange for a fee (from which Uber naturally extracts a handsome slice).
What does this make the drivers?
“Cogs in giant automatic dispatching machine.” Mere extensions of the software. Like additional objects or classes in the software which are capable of real-world execution.
Which begs the question, why not just let the API do everything itself and remove the need for humans altogether?
Of course if the API had its own “hands and legs” it would very well drive all those customers itself.
Think that’s far-fetched?
The next step of course is to build robots to be those “arms and legs” and then who needs humans anymore? Maybe even build those robots in the form of self-driving cars and remove a driver altogether.
Robots who can work 24/7 without food and shelter, only fuel.
Action points/notes to self
- Above/below the API is the new shift boss.
- Above/below the API is the new white/blue collar. The new class divide.
- Now more than ever is the time to choose yourself and start to mind your own business so that you can control your financial future and hence hold your future freedom in your own hands.
I am keen to hear your thoughts on this
This is both exciting yet terrifying at the same time.
On one hand if machines take care of all the lower level automate-able things, many people will be out of a job.
On the other hand this frees up more humans to pursue more creative and artistic endeavors and practice higher thinking, which perhaps, are what humans were made for in the first place.
What do you think?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time.
Tony Lee Jacobs