The story of Visicalc as written by Tim Harford in bbc.com in a very recent article is indeed eye-opening. Not only because it tells the story of the first sensation in business software but because he shows how it showed the earliest signs of destruction of jobs by technology. And then creation of new ones.
Visicalc was the first spreadsheet created by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, Visicalc for the new Apple II and it was “widely thought to be the first “killer app”, a software program so essential that you’d buy a computer just to be able to use it. As Mr Bricklin notes on his website, Steve Jobs later acknowledged that VisiCalc had “propelled the Apple II to the success it achieved”.
The first impact of Visicalc, Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel was that these programs were more efficient than humans and ultimately resulted in hundreds of thousands of accounting clerks loosing their jobs. However Planet Money podcast reported that it created “600000 more jobs for regular accountants as crunching numbers became cheaper, more versatile and powerful, so demand went up.” In essence “the repetitive, routine parts of accountancy disappeared. What remained – and indeed flourished – required more judgement, more human skills.”
The spreadsheet created whole new industries.
Tim refers to another article he wrote about “Jennifer Units that direct warehouse pickers to collect products bu breaking down instructions” and when compared with Visicalc its effect on work is quite the opposite. He surmises “The Jennifer Unit strips a menial task of its last faintly interesting element. The spreadsheet operates in reverse: it strips an intellectually demanding job of the most boring bits.” In essence technology doesn’t necessarily take jobs en masse but ( driver less cars – that may be a whole another story, but it also fits with the trend that ) “chisels away the easily automated chunks, leaving humans to adapt to the rest.” Industry after industry, profession after profession will be impacted with this shift – Algorithms churning news stories, online assessments of students, diagnostic apps that make doctors redundant (see examples in the books SuperCrunchers) Robotic surgery….. the list will only increase. However lessons from Visicalc, the first killer app from this computer age, should not be forgotten – technology can could also magnify human error many fold.
As Tim writes “If we ask computers to do the wrong thing, they’ll do it with the same breathtaking speed and efficiency that inspired Dan Bricklin to create VisiCalc.”
Read all about it in details in the Link to article below :
How computing’s first ‘killer app’ changed everything By Tim Harford https://bbc.in/2WrcYgl