Making machines human-readable

The widening gap in basic computer literacy is dangerous.

As software eats the world, it becomes ever more important for nontechnical people to grok the fundamentals of how computers work. Users and policy-makers don’t need to be able to read code, but they need to understand its implications or we’ll wind up with counterproductive laws and norms.

What might help bridge the gap? More science fiction that grapples with how the internet shapes social, economic, and political incentives as opposed to popular but less illuminating tropes like, for example, anthropomorphizing AI. Tech companies acknowledging that political risk is the greatest threat they face, and deciding that the best way to address it over the long run is to invest dramatically more in communicating key technical concepts as broadly as possible. Schools recognizing that students need to better understand computers for personal, professional, and civic reasons, and reforming curriculums to advance tech literacy at every level from kindergarten to post graduate. Venture capital firms sponsoring Youtubers that popularize basic computer science principles. Internet firms investing directly in stories and ideas a la Stripe Press. Workshops like NASA’s Launch Pad that orient writers within various technical disciplines.

We’re making humans progressively more machine-readable, we need to make machines more human-readable.


Complement with how to make sense of complex ideasusing science fiction to understand the future of the web, and why business leaders need to read more science fiction.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a reading recommendation newsletter and lives in Oakland, CA.

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