Originally published October 1, 2017 on Forbes and on Oracle
Dedicated AI processors will bring massive acceleration of deep learning data sets. Blockchain could be used to verify the security of passenger planes, and natural language processing will start speaking in slang. Amid all this high tech, though, don’t forget about the importance of the productivity boost of using simple tools like Vim, a text editor based on a 1970s program written by Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy.
These insights come courtesy of a diverse group of international software experts who gathered September 28 and 29 at Oracle’s first Developer Champion summit. They came to share their visions for technology with each other and with Oracle, and to hear Oracle’s vision. Here are just a few predictions and observations from these elite Developer Champions.
Lonneke Dikmans, chief product officer at eProseed in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is intrigued by the promise of business AI that learns from human behavior.
On natural language learning vernacular:
“In a few years, we’re going to start hearing vernacular speech in personal assistants. Also, AI directly on silicon is going to cause a massive acceleration of deep learning data sets,” says Pratik Patel, CTO of Triplingo in Atlanta. He notes that Google is planning a Tensorflow processing CPU, and the forthcoming iPhone X is promising a dual-core “bionic neural engine” chip. Patel knows that vernacular natural language hasn’t yet been achieved in machine learning—that’s the niche Triplingo is trying to fill with translation that can understand and respond in slang.
With Oracle launching new platforms for AI, machine learning, and chatbots, the company’s vision is to learn from human behavior, rather than having to keep building bigger rule sets. That jibes with predictions from Lonneke Dikmans, chief product officer at eProseed in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
“The big thing on my radar is machine learning and artificial intelligence. Back when I did cognitive science, it was a big topic, but it never really took off until now,” she says. “We have a lot of customers right now where they basically have a lot of rules, but you don’t want more rules, you want the system to help you and learn from what you are doing. I know best practices for regular business rules engines. I still have to learn them for AI—what is a good idea, will it perform?”
On blockchain and IoT:
“Blockchain is going to change the world. It’s all about trust—blockchain is digital trust,” says Robert van Mölken, an integration and Internet of Things expert at AMIS in the Netherlands who is delivering a talk at Oracle OpenWorld about real-world tips for using blockchain on Oracle Cloud.
Blockchain will also help fill the gaping security holes in many embedded device networks, van Mölken says: “A great example is firmware updates via blockchain. If you have 100 devices in the same network, those can check if another device is compromised. If it’s spoofed, that hash is determined.” This could even work among a network of human cargo vehicles. “An airline blockchain can know, in the air, if one airplane’s software is compromised,” he says.
According to Dikmans, “Blockchain will be very interesting, especially from an integration perspective, but I think right now it’s hard to be very practical about that.”
“I’m glad to see Java as a first-class language for the Oracle Container Native Service,” says Johan Vos, cofounder of Gluon, which ports Java’s historic “write once, run anywhere” promise to mobile devices and connects them to the cloud. In fact, Gluon Java SE embedded builds help a CNC router UI pick photos to create a light sculpture display at the Developer Lounge at the upcoming JavaOne and Oracle Code events.
Containers are also turning software architects—accustomed to dealing mainly with the amorphous early stages of the software development lifecycle—into operations geeks. “Thanks to Docker, in the last year I’ve done more sysadmin work than I’ve ever done before in my life,” says Lucas Jellema, CTO of AMIS.
On low-tech productivity hacks:
The increasing pace of new and complex technology also can be a distraction for developers. Simple ways to find focus are ever more critical to success, according to several Developer Champions who shared the importance of automation, text editors, and even mechanical keyboards.
“Developers have to become automation hackers,” says Sebastian Daschner, a Munich-based Java consultant. “They should reflect on what they are doing whenever they open up this window or change that function, and instead trigger a script or use keyboard shortcuts rather than the mouse. Use the fact that the computer can do stupid things really well.”
But capturing useful macros isn’t as easy as it should be, says Michael Hoffer, a research scientist at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and the creator of VRL Studio, a Java-based visual programming environment.
“Development tools and applications in general have trouble recording your actions in an automatable way. Whether you performed an action with the mouse or the keyboard shouldn’t make a difference,” he says. “That’s why I like the computers of the 1980s, like the Commodore C128. You start it, and you had a shell environment that made it so easy to, say, switch to graphic mode and draw a circle programmatically. When I switched to the PC it was completely different. Even today, we do a lot of things where the tools don’t talk to each other, or lose information on the way. Unfortunately, repeating your actions in an automated way is often difficult or even impossible,” he says.
With the popularity of shell environments for programming, it’s not surprising to discover Vim aficionados among the Developer Champions, including Vos, Daschner, and Hoffer. Vim is a highly customizable text editor that aims to keep a typist’s hands positioned on the home row of the keyboard as much as possible.
What is surprising is how much these experts pay attention to the tactile experience of the keyboard. “Have you tried a mechanical keyboard?” Daschner asks Vos.
“Growing up in Belgium in the 1980s, we had no computer because they were too expensive,” Vos replies. “So, we pretended with a typewriter. I’d type the algorithm, then turn the typewriter around and my brother would pretend to be the computer and type out the result.”
On the importance of developers:
“There’s been no moment in the history of technology that developers were as important as we are visualizing now,” says Rolando Carrasco, an API and chatbot devotee who recently organized a hackathon in Mexico City that hosted 15 teams working with Oracle technology.
This rise of developers is part of a major shift happening in technology, and Oracle has been launching new ways to support people building modern, open, cloud-native applications. These include Oracle Code, a 20-city world tour of developer events, which comes back to San Francisco October 3, as well as Oracle Code Online, and the portal Developer.Oracle.com. And, of course, there’s the Developer Champions program itself. Named in June, these luminaries are slated to speak at JavaOne, Oracle Code, and Oracle OpenWorld October 1 to 5 in San Francisco.
Alexa Weber Morales is a content strategist and editor for Oracle.