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May 26, 2006

Automation: Promoter or Destroyer of Creativity?

Robert L. Glass asksin the Communications of the ACM (subscription required) whether certain advances in software engineering have helped or hindered the creativity of the programmers who have benefitted from these advances. In particular, he acknowledges that those who were responsible for inventing these advances (such as high-order programming languages, operating systems, and modular programming) did something creative, but then questions whether these advances "enhanced the creative abilities of software engineers." His conclusion? "My answer, after some further reflection, remains 'yes.'"

We can ask the same thing about the impact of any kind of advance in automation or systematization. If someone were to automate big chunks of the process of writing a patent application (possibly putting me out of a job), it could take all of the creativity out of the process for someone who writes patent applications. Or it could remove the drudgery, allowing the writer to become creative at a whole new level. Which of these two possibilities occurs depends not only on the technology involved but also on the person using it.

Posted by Robert at May 26, 2006 4:29 PM
category: Work

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