The Wall Street Journal recently featured Apple getting into the automobile business. It is a well-researched article, and I learned a lot. It seems Apple is deeper down the automobile rabbit hole than I initially thought.
The above quote from Jim Adler, the director of Toyota’s venture-capital fund, about software eating the world stood out to me. Even though I’m a geek, I can’t help but feel that as computers and software become more prevalent in everyday objects (cars, TVs, refrigerators), things have the dual possibilities of getting much easier or infinitely more complex. To make ice in my freezer, I open the freezer and throw a physical lever. It’s an easy system to operate, and there is very little that could go wrong.
If computers take over that task, there is the possibility to make the process better. The computer could see when I use more ice and when I use less and adjust accordingly. Maybe I am home more on weekends, so I have greater demand. Perhaps it sees I have a friend coming over Friday night, so it makes even more ice. The flip side is that I don’t have a physical lever to operate if something goes wrong with the software. I have no ice.
In addition to software bugs, we have to consider malicious code. Because if there is software, there is some clever person somewhere in the world trying to exploit it. The battle to protect us from hackers is one that never ends. Exploits are constantly being found. Software teams are continually plugging security holes. Hopefully, the software handles much of this for us, but ultimately it is the consumer’s responsibility to keep software up to date. This has never been a thing for my freezer, but one day it will be.
Finally, as I wrote just a few days ago, so long as our devices can observe our behaviors, people will look to profit from that data. The bold new world of software-everything could very easily result in an Orwellian-level of lost privacy.
The thing that concerns me is that Mr. Adler is right. Software is going to eat everything. While that does have tremendous potential upside, it requires informed consumers and lawmakers who will insist the software is consumer-friendly (as opposed to consumer-hostile), that the software is safe from hackers, and that our privacy is protected. We could do this in parallel, but things don’t appear to be shaping up that way.