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Automating Invention is Robert Plotkin's blog on the impact of computer-automated inventing on the future of invention and patent law.

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August 23, 2005

Automation and Innovation

Hillel Levin at PrawfsBlog comments on the decreasing extent to which computer users need to understand how computers work. He asks whether "it follow[s] that the pool of potential programming innovators is likely to dwindle, since there are going to be fewer school-age kids who have a basic understanding" of how computers work.

I think the answer is "no" if we understand a "programming innovator" to be someone who uses a computer to create innovative computer programs. As genetic programming and other techniques for automating the creation of computer programs improve, we will likely see an increase in computer innovations even as the need for old-fashioned programming skills -- such as the ability to hand-code the individual instructions that make up an algorithm -- decreases.

Remember that in the early days of computing, the term "assembler" referred to a person (usually a lowly graduate student) who hand-translated instructions in an assembly language into binary instructions in a computer machine language. Now that software "assemblers" automate the process of assembly, few humans know how to perform this function. Rather than reduce innovation, this increased ignorance of low-level technical details has spurred innovation by enabling computer programmers to focus their efforts on high-level problem solving rather than low-level implementation details.

Posted by Robert at August 23, 2005 6:00 PM
category: Work

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