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Software becomes Humanware

April 29, 2023
Written by Isaac Shi


Image created by the Author using Midjourney

The term “software” was coined by American statistician John Wilder Tukey in a 1958 article titled “The Teaching of Concrete Mathematics.”

The introduction of this term helped distinguish the intangible aspects of computing, such as programs, data, and instructions, from the physical machinery, or hardware. Software, akin to the elastic nature of the human brain, is the programmable and adaptable component of a computer system. Its explosive growth over the decades led tech venture capitalist Marc Andreessen to proclaim, “Why Software Is Eating The World.”

Software operates within a tiered structure, consisting of a front-end and a back-end. The front-end, encompassing UI and UX design, manages human interactions, while the back-end, composed of business logic, APIs, algorithms, and databases, drives the core functions. Together, these components harmoniously perform critical tasks.

The transformative power of AI is set to revolutionize the design and architecture of software, imbuing the front-end with human-like interactions and infusing the back-end with intelligence surpassing that of humans. This fundamental paradigm shift in software evolution, which I coin as Humanware, marks a historic metamorphosis. It bestows machines with human-like attributes, progressively blurring the distinctions between humans and software.

Software Front-End: From UI to LI (Linguistic Interface)

The Human-computer interface has evolved over many decades, from the rudimentary punched cards employed in early computing systems to the Command Line Interface (CLI) on top of Disk Operating System (DOS), and eventually, the Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) made popular by Windows 95.

From Software UI to LI (Linguistic Interface)
Image created by the Author using Midjourney

Despite these advancements, the landscape of user interfaces, whether on desktops or mobile devices, seemed to plateau, with most interactions being limited to clicking, dragging, and typing on the keyboard. Even the remarkable smartphone revolution, in the grand scheme of things, essentially represents a miniaturized computer.

The emergence of sophisticated language models like ChatGPT, however, has catalyzed a paradigm shift toward what I like to call: Linguistic Interface (LI).

Present-day software interfaces, web applications, and mobile applications have relied heavily on user input through keyboards, mice, and touchscreens. While these are functionally efficient, they often fail to capture the fluidity and richness innate to natural human communication.

I took this picture on the day of the JJ Lin concert, January 28, 2023

The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) ushers in a new era of human-like interaction with software. Natural language has become the primary medium for human-computer user interfaces: Linguistic Interfaces (LI). Powered by AI models like ChatGPT, these interfaces aim to facilitate user-software interaction through natural language, mirroring human conversation. This shift towards a more natural, language-based interaction is a crucial component in the transformation of software into Humanware.

Consider the task of planning a trip to Las Vegas for a JJ Lin (林俊杰) concert — a task I undertook to impress my wife in January this year. I had to navigate multiple web portals and mobile applications to plan my itinerary, book flights from United Airlines, secure accommodations from MGM Grand, purchase concert tickets from the AXS ticketing system, and make restaurant reservations through OpenTable. This was often a fragmented and time-consuming process. In contrast, a LI-enabled AI assistant could streamline this task. It would interact with airlines, accommodation platforms, concert ticketing systems, and restaurant reservation services at the API level, managing the software-to-software communications behind the scenes. Users would simply converse with the LI-enabled AI assistant. This transition from Web UI to intelligent LI marks a new era in human-computer interfaces.

Software Back-End: from Database to Data Sapiens

AI’s influence extends beyond reshaping user interfaces; it also profoundly alters the architecture of software back-ends as well.

Traditionally, software back-ends have primarily focused on data storage and CRUD operations, which encompass Create, Read, Update, and Delete. However, with AI algorithms now operating on this data, databases are evolving to become what we might call Data Sapiens.

Data Sapiens
From Database to Data Sapiens
Image created by the Author using Midjourney

Now, AI algorithms can sift through vast quantities of raw data, converting it into meaningful information, and eventually, actionable intelligence. By unveiling hidden patterns and insights that might typically elude human analysis, AI significantly augments the software’s capacity to provide valuable insights. As a result, it enhances informed decision-making, signifying a major shift in our software systems’ capabilities.

AI-driven architecture: Software back-ends will increasingly adopt AI-driven architectures, allowing them to be more adaptable, efficient, and responsive to changing requirements. These architectures may include microservices, serverless computing, and containerization, which can dynamically scale and adapt based on real-time needs.

Intelligent data processing: As AI models necessitate vast amounts of data, software back-ends will evolve for smarter data processing and management. AI-driven analytics tools will extract deeper, actionable insights from collected and processed data, enhancing decision-making and overall user experience. By revealing hidden patterns and insights often overlooked by human analysis, AI amplifies the software’s capacity to provide valuable, actionable intelligence.

Software becomes Humanware

AI-powered software now employs neural networks, inspired by the human brain’s elasticity and learning capabilities. These networks allow software to learn from data, recognize patterns, and adapt, mimicking complex human problem-solving abilities.

Image created by the Author using Midjourney

As software transits from a mere tool to a collaborative partner and guide, it evolves into what we now call Humanware. While there are unintended consequences and profound risks, in this transformation, with AI at the core of future software, we are entering an era where software no longer just processes our commands, but understands and anticipates our needs, assisting us in ways we might not even have imagined.

AI-powered software is progressing, with machines increasingly capable of understanding human natural languages, bringing us closer to passing the Turing Test. This development ushers in a new era of symbiotic relationships between humans and machines. These relationships possess emergent properties that are poised to have a profound impact on the future.

Human creativity kick-starts machine intelligence, and in turn, machines, with their limitless computing capabilities, enhance human creativity by delivering unprecedented insights and intelligence. This symbiotic relationship between humans and machines represents a level of advancement unparalleled since the dawn of civilization.

While software may be eating the world, Humanware is set to humanize it.

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