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I've Got One Word For You Benjamin; Algorithms

Code Halos
Management of Algorithms

I've Got One Word For You Benjamin; Algorithms

Those of you of a certain age will remember the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman’s character - Benjamin Braddock...

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Those of you of a certain age will remember the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman’s character - Benjamin Braddock – is cornered by one of his parent’s friends at a party and offered unwanted career advice; “One word; plastics”.

In 1967 “plastics” was a pretty good call; despite his revulsion at the antics of his parents ‘ circle (one of them in particular!) and overall angst at having to enter the real world Benjamin could have done a lot worse than taking the advice to heart (ridiculous though its Haiku like conveyance may have been!). Joining an industry on the cusp of huge growth might have served him well. Perhaps in fact he did (after the novelty of the post-cancelled wedding road trip wore off), and maybe a sequel (rather than a remake) would show the now retired Benjamin cocooned in the comfortable bourgeois trappings of the senior industry executive.

Fast forward to today and though “plastics” is still a huge and growing industry it’s unlikely that the 67 year old Benjamin would be advising his 21 neighbor that “plastics” is the next great opportunity just about to break wide open. If they were re-making the movie today the updated script would have the word “plastics” replaced by “algorithms”.

As we repeatedly point out in our new book about Code Halos (we have told you about our new book haven’t we?!) the development and management of algorithms is the key foundational skill that is going to help individuals, organizations, and societies win the new code rush that is observable all around us today. 

Algorithms are at the heart of every major dynamic of digital disruption. Want to understand Amazon? Look at its algorithms. Want to understand Facebook? Look at its algorithms? Want to understand the future of government? Look at the algorithms that are being developed to re-invent the public square.

What’s truly amazing about algorithms is that not only do they allow us to pan the new digital gold they are actually responsible for making the gold in the first place! To mix my metaphors algorithms make bigger haystacks and bigger needles at the same time in a virtuous circle of growth; in Code Halos we devote an entire chapter – called Enrichment – to analyzing this phenomenon.  

Through lineage firmly from the humanities side of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures  I am though only too conscious – more and more so as my thickening and thinning gathers pace – that the era ahead will be dominated by the algorithms at the heart of the sciences. We may have reached Peak Sculpture, Peak Poetry, Peak Rock “n” Roll, Peak Movie (in part thanks to The Graduate) but Peak Science still stretches off into the vanishing point.

Though the new Benjamin might be equally as repulsed by vodka-fuelled-know-it-all- counsel as the old Benjamin was the new Benjamin would do well to listen to what would be sage advice.  If you can tell the computer what to do you have a great future ahead. If the computer can tell you what to do the future is not so bright. At a time when The (present day) Graduate faces an unprecedentedly tough job market, when “stable”, “mature” industries (even Plastics) are undergoing wrenching structural change, “Algorithms” are as good a long term career bet as any that one can reasonable make. 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I used to wear a T-shirt with the phrase “I’ve Got One Word For You” on the front and “Plastics” on the back (I seem to remember getting it as a gift for subscribing to Q magazine); maybe I should look into getting a new one made up for my 11 year old but now with the word “Algorithms” on the back. 

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