Delivered 2016-12-13 at APIDays Paris 2016, Paris, France



Prepared Talk





WAV (unedited)




Our lives are increasingly filled with autonomic robots. The word autonomic means "unconcious or involuntary" — the things that happen without us thinking about it; without us understanding how they work. Like delivering virtual goods instantly around the world, automatically arranging the route of physical goods from the factory to your doorstep, and establishing day-to-day work schedules for coffee baristas to maximize profits for the employer. These are just some of the autonomic systems that are changing the way we live on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes influencing where we work, how we do our job and, in some cases, whether we will lose our job to a machine.

Some of us are in the business of creating autonomic systems that will likely compete with humans for work — possibly eliminting whole job categories like long-distance truck driver, factory assembly worker, or taxi operators, leaving thousands of people jobless. Even the rise of APIs, containers, and self-discovery protocols means that some programmers are working to create systems that could eliminate their own class of job.

It seems inevitable that out future will be more autonomic but will it be a better world? And at what cost? and to whom?

In this talk we’ll explore the implications of creating autonomic systems. We’ll look at the fears, dreams, and realities of a trend that can only lead in one direction — that of fewer jobs for humans and more reliance on machines. Are we willing to accept the responsibility of our actions? Are we prepared for the kind of life where jobs are rare and free time is abundant?

What role will each of us play in shaping our autonomic future?

Speaker Mike Amundsen

Director of API Architecture, API Academy, CA Technologies

An internationally known author and lecturer, Mike Amundsen travels throughout the world consulting and speaking on a wide range of topics including distributed network architecture, Web application development, and other subjects.

In his role of Director of Architecture for the API Academy, Amundsen heads up the API Architecture and Design Practice in North America. He is responsible for working with companies to provide insight on how best to capitalize on the myriad opportunities APIs present to both consumers and the enterprise.

Amundsen has authored numerous books and papers on programming over the last 15 years. His last book was a collaboration with Leonard Richardson titled "RESTful Web APIs" published in 2013. His 2011 book, “Building Hypermedia APIs with HTML5 and Node”, is an oft-cited reference on building adaptable Web applications. He is currently working to complete a new book - "RESTful Web Clients" due out from O’Reilly in 2016.

Twitter Thread

I’ll be adding follow-up links and comments via the #autonomicFuture tag on twitter. Feel free do the same [--mamund]


These are quotes I collected while researching the topic. They won’t all appear in the presentation, but I included them here anyway since I thought they were thought-provoking and, in some cases, inspiring. (mca)

  • The play introduced the word robot, which displaced older words such as "automaton" or "android" in languages around the world. In an article in Lidové noviny Karel Čapek named his brother Josef as the true inventor of the word. In Czech, robota means forced labour of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters' lands and is derived from rab, meaning "slave".

    The name Rossum is an allusion to the Czech word rozum, meaning "reason", "wisdom", "intellect" or "common-sense". It has been suggested that the allusion might be preserved by translating "Rossum" as "Reason" but only the Majer/Porter version translates the word as "Reason". [RUR]

  • Luciano Floridi has described the play thus: "Philosophically rich and controversial, R.U.R. was unanimously acknowledged as a masterpiece from its first appearance, and has become a classic of technologically dystopian literature." [RUR]

  • The poem begins as an old sorcerer departs his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform. Tired of fetching water by pail, the apprentice enchants a broom to do the work for him – using magic in which he is not yet fully trained. The floor is soon awash with water, and the apprentice realizes that he cannot stop the broom because he does not know how.

    The apprentice splits the broom in two with an axe – but each of the pieces becomes a whole new broom that takes up a pail and continues fetching water, now at twice the speed. When all seems lost, the old sorcerer returns and quickly breaks the spell. The poem finishes with the old sorcerer’s statement that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself. [Apprentice]

  • Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a grotesque but sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition of the novel was published anonymously in London in 1818, when she was 20. Her name first appeared on the second edition, published in France in 1823. [Frank]

  • Since the publication of their 2011 book Race Against The Machine, MIT professors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson have been prominent among those raising concern about technological unemployment. The two professors remain relatively optimistic however, stating "the key to winning the race is not to compete against machines but to compete with machines." [TUE]

  • "Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need." — Voltaire, Candide, 1759

  • overcoming the limits of our muscules (Ian Morris) vs. overcoming the limits of our brains (Andrew McAfee)

  • "Technology is a gift from God. After the gift of life, it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts, and of sciences." — Freeman Dyson

  • "Evolution has not equipped us to deal with such ghostly entities that don’t come in the form of steel skeletons with red shiny eyes, but in the form of menacing arrangements of zeros and ones." — Meia Chita-Tegmark [HuffPo]

  • "Evidence from developmental and social psychology suggests that we are swift to attribute mental states to entities with eyes and movement patterns that look goal directed, much slower to attribute mentality to eyeless entities with inertial movement patterns. But of course such superficial features needn’t track underlying mentality very well in AI cases.

    Call this the ASIMO Problem." — Eric Schwitzgebel

  • One thing I’ve learned over these last 30 or 40 years is that people make history. There’s no fait accompli to any of this. —

  • We are entering a new phase in human history - one in which fewer and fewer workers will be needed to produce the goods and services for the global population.

  • The autonomic nervous system has two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is often considered the "fight or flight" system, while the parasympathetic nervous system is often considered the "rest and digest" or "feed and breed" system. In many cases, both of these systems have "opposite" actions where one system activates a physiological response and the other inhibits it. [AUTO]

  • Small family farms are defined as those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) of less than $350,000; in 2011, these accounted for 89.71 percent of all US farms. Because low net farm incomes tend to predominate on such farms, most farm families on small family farms are extremely dependent on off-farm income. Small family farms in which the principal operator was mostly employed off-farm accounted for 41.87 percent of all farms and 14.6 percent of total US farm area; median net farm income was $788. Retirement family farms were small farms accounting for 16.29 percent of all farms and 6.5 percent of total US farm area; median net farm income was $5,002. [USFARM]

  • John Maynard Keynes (1930) set out a related view of technological progress in his essay, "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren." Keynes glimpsed a far-off technological horizon, where "for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well." [KEYNES]

  • One factory has "reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots", a government official told the South China Morning Post. [FOXCONN]

  • Arthur speculates that in a little more than ten years, 2025, this Second Economy may be as large as the original “first” economy was in 1995 – about $7.6 trillion. If the Second Economy does achieve that rate of growth, it will be replacing the work of approximately 100 million workers. To put that number in perspective, the current total employed civilian labor force today is 146 million. A sizeable fraction of those replaced jobs will be made up by new ones in the Second Economy. But not all of them. Left behind may be as many as 40 million citizens of no economic value in the U.S alone. The dislocations will be profound. [ARTHUR]


I read through many references in preparing this talk. Here is a list (in no particular order) of the ones I thought would be interesting as background or follow-up material. (mca)

Science Fiction
Past Tech
Politics & Economics
Future of Work
Other References
Wikipedia References

Composing and Image Sources

Lots of image credits and references here.