In the last few decades computers have become smaller, faster and cheaper. They are now everywhere, from your phone to your fridge, helping us to communicate, do business and get around.
In this lesson we’ll explore how computers integrate with our daily lives, and how code is used to help program the innovative technologies popular today.
Almost all companies now use digital systems to conduct their day-to-day business. They use advanced accounting software for smart bookkeeping; teams communicate by email, messaging, or video conference; vendors track sales through sensors and databases; and often retailers sell products that only exist in the digital world.
In the last 50 years the speed and size of computer microchips has changed massively. The computers that put a man on the moon cost $3.5 million and were the size of a car. Today, the average smartphone is 12 million times faster and fits in your pocket.
This small, inexpensive technology is now everywhere: toasters, cars, medical devices, clothing. And much of it is connected to the Internet.
Coders can use sets of functions and procedures called APIs (application programming interfaces) to help two computer applications talk to each other. Let’s explore a few everyday examples of how computers use APIs to make life simpler for us.
ATMs use APIs connected to banks all over the world to check how much money you have in your account. If you want to get money out in Paris, the ATM program quickly contacts your bank in London, deducts the amount off your balance, transfers it to the ATM company, and you get your cash. All in a few seconds, and all because of APIs.
When you book a hotel room through a centralised booking site, like Booking.com, you are relying on an API that connects the booking form with room tracking systems in thousands of hotels all over the world. If the hotel tells the booking site they have a free room, you can book away!
Music streaming applications like Spotify track which songs are being played the most across the world. They use this data to automatically generate playlists that feature the most popular artists and songs, often tailored specifically to your musical tastes.
Using APIs, programs can communicate with each other, which in turn helps us to complete tasks faster and more efficiently in our daily lives and in the workplace.
The world of code is constantly evolving. Let’s briefly look at two important trends in technology that are shaping how people code: artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are both branches of computer science, and both contribute to the development of machines being able to make smarter decisions.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the science of making machines intelligent. AI is already helping improve our day-to-day lives: from smartphone assistance and the technology that detects credit card fraud, to smart thermostats like Nest that automatically adjust room temperatures based on your habits and schedule.
Machine learning is a technique used to further develop AI. Machine learning programs identify patterns, make predictions, and learn from examples, without being explicitly programmed to do so. We already benefit from machine learning in many situations: from predicting traffic patterns, recognising faces in photo libraries, and translating foreign languages.
To put these two together: AI takes what machine learning has learnt from its environment and uses it to make intelligent decisions. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also being used on larger scales: for example, farmers use it to sort vegetables into different sizes and qualities; scientists use it to track the movement of animals; and medical researchers are using it to detect the emergence of different cancers.
These exciting new technologies are providing us with new ways of looking at old problems, and are helping to transform the way coders can shape the digital and physical worlds.
So that was a brief introduction to some of the ways code affects our everyday lives. Take a look around your home, or your workplace. Which devices are connected to the internet? What APIs are they gathering their data from? Is there anything around you that’s already using AI or machine learning? And if not, what around you do you think could benefit from these technologies?
- what are APIs and how they allow programs to communicate with one another
- what Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning are, and the differences between them
- how AI and Machine Learning are being applied in the real world