For my sixth birthday, my father brought home a globe of the world. It is the best birthday present I have ever received. We had been reading Stefan Zweig’s masterful book on Magellan together, and together, we traced our fingers along the vast, boundless oceans of our world. We lived in a small, tiny apartment, but with that gift, my imagination soared beyond the confines of our cramped home.
Just two months later, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped down onto the surface of the moon. Having only read about the Age of Discovery, I saw at an early age that the Age of Discovery never ended. Today, the next great, unconquered expanse isn’t a colony on Mars, but looking inwards at the human mind. Our next great challenge, through the new tools offered by AI, is to unlock our innate capacity for ingenuity––combining machine strength and human creativity to harness an augmented intelligence. But discovery without democratization means nothing. If we cannot share the fruits of augmented intelligence, then discovery is just a wasted opportunity.
That is exactly why I am so excited to partner with Appian in bringing the low-code revolution to every industry and individual. Our joint project touches on two of the causes I care most about: AI and democracy. Low code democratizes the innovation of AI by making it accessible for everyone, not just specialists.
As I discussed with Appian CEO Matt Calkins in our Clubhouse conversation on Intergenerational Knowledge-Sharing, Appian’s focus on democratizing AI means that smarter tools allow users with less and less formal knowledge to take advantage of them. In the 70’s, computers were the exclusive domain of software specialists, who knew how to work the wonky code that made the machines run. Even a simple copy-paste had to be a coded command before the era of the mouse user interface (UI). Then, in the 80’s, drag-and-drop graphical user interfaces allowed non-specialists to move around the screen with a mouse, instead of typing code into a machine. Today, you don't even need a mouse: Siri and voice command technology do it all for you.
What this means for industry is that veteran employees can remain productive for far longer, without having to go back to school every time a new technology comes out. Meanwhile, new employees can contribute to the company from day one, instead of spending months at boot camp learning how to navigate complicated and specialized technology. We often hear politicians catastrophize the jobs lost due to technology, but what about all the jobs created and the increased productivity allowed by low code technology?
That’s exactly why my partners at Appian are charging ahead to bring the low-code and no-code revolutions to the market. When the US Air Force needed low-code software to equip the world’s best pilots, they turned to Appian. Working together, they were able to revolutionize the Air Force’s acquisition-writing process, reconfiguring and developing seven different legacy contract-writing applications into an augmented intelligence platform digitally secured at the highest industry standards. Together, they are pursuing a goal of saving 100 collective years of contract-writing across the Air Force, freeing up our nation’s armed forces to defend the country.
But at its core, the low-code revolution is about empowering individuals. And it has equally important applications closer to home as well. Throughout the pandemic, mental health professionals have been busier than ever providing for healthcare to new and old patients alike. That’s why Appian teamed up with leading mental health care providers to develop augmented intelligence platforms that enabled faster, easier, and more comprehensive coverage––enabling professionals to make better informed decisions and provide better care for their patients than ever before.
It is not the act of discovery, but the democratization and distribution of discovery that makes exploration worth it. If Magellan had taken the secrets of circumnavigation to the grave with him, what would have been the use of his journey? It is because he charted the map for future generations and spread the word, far and wide, that the great voyage was worth it. This is exactly why Appian’s work is so crucial: it is in the act of democratizing discovery that we find the value of exploration.
As AI and software platforms become ever more sophisticated, how can we make sure that every human has the ability to take advantage of advances in science and technology? Can democratizing access to new technologies keep pace with discovery? It is a mighty challenge, and that is exactly why Appian and I are choosing to face it.
Seven years before I traced Magellan’s journey on my globe, before Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind, President Kennedy declared that his generation chose to face the great challenges of their time “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” Whether we successfully democratize the fruits of technological discovery will decide whether we have succeeded in empowering individuals with augmented intelligence. It’s time to take up that hard challenge, and organize and measure the best of our energies and skills to face it. I’m excited to be part of the team at Appian working on just that.