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Coding for the Virtual Age

Welcome to the Code-iverse.

Last month, we explored how inescapable technology is in our modern world. Nearly everywhere we turn for work, entertainment, socialization, education, and virtually anything else, we interact with technology. Tech shapes our experience of life, and it will increasingly influence any path our children decide to take in the future.

But we can take this idea one step further. Technology doesn’t just shape our future; in many ways, technology is the future. The line is blurring between a tangible world with digital components splashed in and a virtual world with real components dotting the landscape. Much of our lives exist within technological spaces.

The fact that Big Tech has pivoted dramatically towards outpacing each other in disseminating more sophisticated AI is an indication that this new era is not going away. If we want our children to be prepared for a future that’s increasingly virtual, we would do well to expose them to the possibility of developing the skills necessary to help build that future.

Learning to code is a gateway to being able to participate in the virtual parts of the economy. Code is the language of technology, and as technology matures at an ever-increasing rate, would-be coders will need to be willing to keep abreast of the latest skills necessary to join in.

The Real Intelligence Behind AI

For thousands of years, humans have been developing technological advancements that allow us to reach goals at a dramatically more rapid rate than previously thought possible. The invention of the plow allowed us to feed our species far more efficiently, eventually giving rise to productive specialization and trade, and even the development of cities. The steam engine and the industrial revolution made it possible to travel and produce at a breakneck rate. Agricultural advancements in the twentieth century allowed our population to explode. The internet shot us into a future of global connectivity that was all but science fiction a mere one hundred years ago.

AI will disrupt every industry it touches. AI propels scientific research into the stratosphere; it creates entire new competitive advantages in commerce and industry; it both threatens and empowers national security; it will change the way humans relate to each other and to the technology in our everyday lives.

And AI is all computations.

AI synthesizes the information it’s fed (which, in the case of the AI being developed today, is an astronomical volume) and outputs solutions that are internally consistent based on a given set of parameters. Programming AI requires a heavy degree of formulaic thinking and how to translate that math into something the program can interpret. People who thrive on extrapolating mathematical information, finding holes, and accounting for variables are exactly the people needed to build this emerging “species” of artificially intelligent companions.

It's Virtually Everywhere

And we’re not leaving AI to exist in its virtual habitat alone. We’re busy creating virtual habitats for ourselves. It seems that immersive spaces are just on the brink of becoming mainstream—perhaps we’re already caught in the current that will take us over the waterfall.

Everywhere we turn, there are new immersive experiences being developed, and usually with exorbitant amounts of investment capital behind them to bring them to life. It’s not uncommon to see a set of virtual reality goggles in a new friend’s apartment. Oculus and Apple are spending billions creating the best user experience. Many theorize that Apple’s Vision Pro headset was developed not as a perfected product, but as a precursor to later generations of the device that will truly be future-ready.

And while Facebook’s Metaverse may not have had the sweeping adoption that its chief executives had hoped for, it, like the Vision Pro, is likely only a precursor to a much more widely adopted technology. Virtual spaces for concerts and esports are gaining some traction, and we may not be far away from virtual spaces taking a place in our daily life.

Even in-person venues are experimenting with virtual elements. The MGS Sphere in Las Vegas will be one of the most immersive entertainment structures ever constructed by humankind. Its movie experiences will feature fully peripheral-vision-capturing screens and 4D effects that will make the audience feel like they are being transported into a cinematically created world. Its exterior also blends reality and fiction, being able to take the visual form of any spherical object its programmers can imagine. This is just one more example of how humans are lacing our everyday experiences with the virtual.

As with AI, these new and massively important industry sectors will completely run on code. Someone needs to figure out the optimal perspective distortions necessary to fool the human brain into thinking it’s somewhere else when a user puts on a VR headset. Someone needs to optimize special effects that are perfectly coordinated with audio and visual stimuli for MGS showgoers. Someone needs to tweak virtual universes that don’t take off, constantly adapting technology until the right chord is struck that sends the product viral.

Not a Skill—A Language

Coding is not a skill in the traditional sense. It is not something that one can simply master and then apply in an unchanged manner for decades. It is a language, and one that is constantly evolving as we continue to come up with more and more creative ways to push the boundaries of technology. As with any language, if fluency is the goal, then nothing beats native immersion. We have the opportunity to build a generation of coding natives, much like the millennial generation was the first to grow up as native computer users. Moreover, this increasingly creates the chance that those who do not learn will be left behind. Coding skills may be necessary not just to create a competitive advantage, but to maintain one.

Imagine you were around in an English-speaking country the sixteenth century, in the time of Shakespeare, and you were all of the sudden transported to the present day. Putting aside the shock from seeing today’s modern civilizations, another hurdle you would face would be with your language. You would speak a form of Early Modern English, which, while similar, is vastly different from the English spoken today. If, rather than being transported into the future, you were to simply have lived from the mid-sixteenth century to today, imagine the amount of change you would have had to adopt in your language simply to cope with the times.

This is much the same with the coding that will be so fundamental to almost every industry in very short order. It’s already invaluable; soon enough, it may become indispensable.

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