Soul of the New Apps

The apps that dominate our daily lives have been smoothly sliding LLMs into our dm-s. ChatGPT, Bard, Microsoft’s has Copilots, WhatsApp’s Meta AI, SnapChat My AI, X permium+’s Grok – while Alexa and Siri are now the boomers in the family. It would not be an overstatement to say we are witnessing a major paradigm shift in the soul of our app driven life style, and in this post I want to document my thoughts, observations and predictions on the changing landscape.

Conversation – The ultimate App UI

At the core of any human computer interaction we have, Input -> Compute -> Output. It has been a long road to reduce the friction at the boundaries of compute – making computers comprehend our intent and respond back meaningfully. First there were command line interfaces; then for decades we have been stuck iterating with the graphical user interface. In the absence of natural language comprehension, these were the only tools to narrow down the users expressions for computation. Take a look at “The Mother of all Demos” in which Douglas Engelbart demonstrated for the first time what a point and click interface would look like and ushered in the era of personal computing.

Fast forward to Steve Job’s 2007 demo of the first iPhone, was a giant leap that showed us a way to touch and manipulate a computation with our finger that actually usable. It introduced a new way to express our intent to the computer and we have been building on top of that for fifteen years.

Numerous attempts all along the way to make the computer understand natural language paved the way for what was coming in November 2022. A year after ChatGPT, we now have a functioning talking computer. LLMs can now see, hear and understand our natural language instructions. We no longer need to wrestle to make the results of computation comprehensible – we can get natural language description of the compute at the right level of compression that reduces the cognitive load for interpretation.
Here’s a screenshot of ChatGPT app on my phone, which would have been considered an impossible dream in 2010.

Every non-conversational apps like banks, brokerage firms, or utility company now are rushing to add LLM based chat bots on their sites.

Support chat windows on sites have been there for a long time, but they hardly worked either handing us over to a human or just giving up with a bad user experience. With LLM powered chatbots, we have entered a new era.

Jokes aside, my prediction is they will gradually move out of one corner of the screen and take over the whole UI relieving the users of pain of clicking through navigation menus and buttons, filling lengthy forms. All the GUI elements, which are really proxies for natural language, are going to melt away in the face of direct conversation.

Messaging apps that put conversation first, like Slack, Teams, Twitter, Whatsapp, Meta’s messenger have a huge advantage to build new platforms for businesses and industries. Back in the day businesses had only the physical platform to build brick and mortar shops. During the dot-com era, they moved to the internet when they realized the convenience of the customer. The next platforms were the App store and Play store as businesses realized customers were carrying a smart phone in their pocket and the desktop was just gathering dust. In 2024, we stand at the cusp of the GPT Store. Businesses need to build RAG (Retrieval Augmented Generation) apps and ditch the whole click driven UI for conversation first UI.
But RAG apps are just the beginning though. The reason a human to human conversation is magical is not only because we can recall information, but we can re-evaluate our positions and adapt to the changed state of the world. This takes me to the more wilder part of my prediction – just in time reprogramming.

Reprogramming – Apps Adapting to the world

Software has already eaten the world. But the world keeps changing. To keep up with the changes, software needs to change. Today, we have teams of developers doing elaborate design, build, test, ship cycles to build complex software. Business analysts, developers, testers, product managers collectively try to understand, implement and evolve the software to meet the demands of the changing world.

ChatGPTs Code Interpreter and Data Analysis have already shown us what just in time computing can look like. Stretch your imagination a little further where code generation, testing and execution all gets done in real time as response to your prompt. The fact that LLMs today can generate code at a speed acceptable to many real-time scenarios is the second big change in the soul of the machine. Niche business logic that earlier took months to code, test and ship could get autogenerated, compiled, tested and finally executed – on the fly based on a user prompt. Take a look at the End of Programming talk by Dr. Matt Welsh which concludes that today the “(Large Language) Model is the computer”.

My prediction is dynamic code generation and just in time execution with the continuous re-authoring of complex business logic based on user feedback will become how apps function in the future. As the landscape will go through tumultuous disruption, the pace at which we write code and ship software will no longer be sustainable. Current development best practices say all development, testing etc needs to be moved left. But as LLMs get better, we might see an absolute paradigm shift where the entire software development life cycle moves all the way to the right, towards the edge. The models will eat the whole software stack, not just code generation. The removal of humans from writing and maintaining code, will lead to evolution of the software stack to focus on quality, safety and security. “Conversation first & LLM inside” becomes the new stack.

The Future of our App centric life

From Gutenberg’s printing press, to the modern web and mobile App Stores – pivotal technology changes have given rise to platforms on which the next chapters of human civilization was written. Unfortunately in modern times pivotal technological changes have only widened the economic gaps between the rich and the poor. The promise of the trickle down economics remains a distant dream that never delivers as gig economy workers get strangled servicing multiple apps. It is evident that the success of the AI arms race is biased towards deep pockets, and the super wealthy tech giants have all the unfair advantage. Our only hope is that in the past, we have been successful in building open technologies that benefit the whole civilization as well. Take the Internet for example which triumphed over the proprietary Information Superhighway that Microsoft wanted to establish in the 90s. Open Source softwares like LAMP stack that got the world to its digital adolescence. We need open standards, protocols, weights, regulations and software for sustainable AI. That way the next generation of computing, it is not owned by a multibillion dollar corporation, but is level playing field that rewards our unique perspectives and helps us progress as a species.

Audacious Aspirations of an AI Optimist

According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.’s report last month (May 2023), 3,900 jobs were lost to AI. That makes it the seventh highest contributing factor for layoffs and 5% of total job cuts of the month. This is also the first time AI has been cited as a contributing factor for job loss.
AI eating all jobs doomsday predictions dominate the mainstream media. Our news feed are overflowing with predictions of societal collapse and existential crisis. There is no way to leapfrog the misery of job loses in the coming years. Nineteenth century definition of worker, job and career have reached their expiry date.
But there is another side to the story. New definitions of jobs and careers for the next hundred years are getting written today. And they spell an era of unprecedented economic boom beyond the temporary misery.

The last century

With every breakthrough in technology, we have seen the old jobs and careers vanish. New jobs and careers open the door of opportunities by orders of magnitude. When goods hand-crafted by artisans got replaced by those from the mills and factories, it brought thousands from rural areas to fast growing cities. When internal combustion engines replaced horses, the coachman gave way to thousands of truck drivers who criss-cross the country everyday.

With software eating the world, we have seen people in a variety of new jobs and careers which were unimaginable to their parents. Those with the economic affluence to afford a good education saw a path to flourish as knowledge workers. Those less fortunate became mechanical turks in the gig economy serving just in time needs of the affluent at a narrow margin.

Unfortunately, during these years of progress our view of economic growth became centered around the success of big corporations. This twentieth century model has succeeded by leveraging centralized capital at the cost of human resources. Those in possession of capital enriched themselves, shaped the values of our society, and made participation and success a struggle for the less fortunate. Thus despite these advances the economic rift that bisects our society kept widening.

In the last decade, three new forces have emerged. They are on the verge of alignment to bring the biggest change our civilization has ever experienced.

1. Influencers

Influencers are independent individuals who through their originality and creativity are able to impact the outlook of thousands, sometimes millions. True fans in niche communities are evaluating their content and coronating the deserving creators. They understand how to leverage the new technology and media and ditched the 9-to-5 grind from their parent’s era.
While this rise of individuals was promising, it did not loosen the grip of the big companies. These influencers are chained to the algorithms of the platforms where they publish their product or content. The algorithms control every aspect of a creator’s success and are written behind closed doors to maximize the profit for the companies. The creator and their fans got trapped in the walled garden.

2. Decentralization

The advances in decentralized networks and payment technologies has made it possible to break free of the network effect these platforms. These solutions can go beyond the control of a single company or censorship of a government.

Recent debacles in the cryptocurrency world have surely shattered the confidence and led many to abandon ships. But beyond the hype cycle, the technological breakthroughs that we have already achieved are here to stay. Once they mature to provide the safety of the financial assets and protection against censorship, it will give the creators freedom to focus on their craft and community.

3. Copilots

The third and the final force are AI copilots. The sharper your knife, finer is the cut. With generative AI, we are in the early days of creating a general purpose compilers for building new tools.

The current generation of AI tools have given millions the power to rapidly remix the knowledge curated by humanity over ages. These tools excel in visual, linguistic or computational expressions and can create something that shocks even the most proficient practitioner of the craft. Never before has such a technology been made accessible to human kind at such a scale.

As AI super charges our tools, we will create higher quality results in record time. Our personal AI copilots will evolve with us from every meeting we attend, every email we are cc-ed, every new book or article we read. They will act as a mentor, a career coach, keep our inbox zeroed, and maintain a prioritized list of where to focus on for maximizing our goal.

Humanoid robots managing manufacturing, self-driving distribution fleet delivering goods, a giga factory at a natural language api call away – the grunt work will take a back seat. The focus will be on creative work.

We can imagine four stages of this creative work

Stage 1: identifying a problem and imaging the solution for a community

Stage 2: prompt engineering the implementation

Stage 3: review, feedback and course correct till a steady state is shipped

Stage 4: maintain steady state cruise control

Employee to entrepreneur

In the future, a typical workday of an employee will probably look similar to that of today’s entrepreneur. They’ll act as the conductor orchestrating the autonomous agents by providing higher level decisions and strategies.

Employees thinking and acting like entrepreneurs will change everything. More and more people will find their niche community of true fans and realize their true potential outside the confines of a company. The promise of a life long job and career with the same company will no longer be the norm. Free-lancing, contracting, or consulting will become more dominant model of how people earn their livelihood. Serial entrepreneurship will become the de facto career description in the coming days. Salary to equity transformation will help bring more people out of chasm of poverty.
Quality, originality and creativity will be rewarded than winning the race to be the cheapest. People will be paid for managing the tension to establish steady state control to any problem facing disruptive forces. But the rate of disruption will only accelerate, setting a flywheel effect of unprecedented economic boom.

Weakening of Big Corporations

The success of open source AI development shows how this dream can become a reality. Closed source models have exhausted billions of dollars to define the state of the art. However, in the open source world, new models get published everyday. Their active leaderboard of performance is an existential threat for the big companies – they have no moat. Open source attracts motivated individuals who can learn, teach, build, change and share without permission. That pace of innovation is impossible in the high stake rigid environment of a big company. This development is backed by organizing global community of true fans. They are contributing with human, computing or financial resources in foundational research, implementation and their usage in real world problem solving. Such development will make it harder for traditional big companies to compete and sustain profitably.

Open Regulations for AI

Great power in the hands of the irresponsible is a recipie for disaster.

Regulating AI and figuring out the real world consequences is the challenge of our generation. This is why leaders from big companies and countries are holding emergency meetings. They are scrambling to come up with a playbook that will allow them dictate the ecosystem.
But we cannot rely on them to call the shots with this powerful technology. We have seen too many examples of how the society and nature have suffered when power is centralized behind closed doors. We have to demand laws and regulations to be written, reviewed and modified in the open and driven by the community. Progress in blockchain technologies have laid the foundations for decentralized governance, policy making and enforcement. Cryptocurrencies and smart contracts have shown successful implementation is possible. Whether we will be successful in creating an economically just world will be dependent on our success in effective democratization of AI regulation.

AI Optimist

If you have made this far, I am grateful for your attention to this dream.

I hope the rise of the individuals and weakening of profit driven mega corporations will see the demise of other old societal structures that keep us from achieving our true potential. Decades down the line, we will find the rift between the rich and the poor has shrunk as we continue to move towards a more just society driven by service rather than greed. An era where policies are written to help human species to flourish in this planet and beyond, staying in harmony with nature, will finally begin.