The future is written in code


Decoded CEO Kathryn Parsons, delivering her keynote speech at the CeBIT 2016 conference, began by asking the audience: ‘How many here have a smartphone in their pocket?’

It will surprise no one that nearly everyone raised their hand. Technology is now ubiquitous – predications say that globally smartphone penetration will have reached 80% by 2020. Technology is advancing so fast that much of the technology in the film Minority Report, set in the year 2054, is now here: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, even the ability to predict crimes before they happen. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived.

kathrynparsons2.pngSo fast is the technology advancing, that people risk being left behind. Australian company Rethink Robotics are developing machines that can do tasks previously not doable by machines. These machines are able to look, learn and collaborate, and even perform cognitive tasks. Could a machine potentially do the role of a CEO? These are questions we now need to ask ourselves, says Parsons.

For those looking for some solace, the two jobs least likely to be replaced by machines are clergy and choreographer. If neither of those jobs appeal, Kathryn’s message is clear: we need to get on board the technology train before it leaves the station.

Of course, this is a daunting prospect for many – coding can seem intimidating, so much so that only 1% of the population would confidently say they understand the technology behind the screen. Hence Decoded’s mission: to teach novices to be able to code in a day, thereby transforming them from passive observers to active, empowered participants. Parsons calls this ‘digital enlightenment’ – effectively stripping away the fear and ‘darkness’ that people associate with coding. 

'This is an amazing moment in time,’ Parsons went on. Her favourite number is 27 – the number of pounds she and her co-founder had when they started Decoded. The barriers to realising an innovative idea have never been lower, she says. Over the last three years, coding has become a zeitgeist and it is now being introduced into school curriculums all over the world. But while technology is ostensibly one of the most democratic tools ever invented, in practice this is not always the case. A significant demographic being excluded or opting out from the revolution is women.

One reason that Parsons hears touted a lot is ‘Women’s brains don’t work that way.’ However, in her experience she has found no difference between men’s and women’s abilities to code – what is different, though, is that women are 30% less confident in their abilities. This is something Parsons is trying to combat; businesses are not just looking for coders, but digital leaders, and Parsons wants women to be a significant part of this growing workforce. Today, products developers are 95% men – it is time for women to reclaim their digital future.

Parson’s concluding quote: ‘It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission’ originally said by pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper. A compelling call to action indeed.

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