CM 085: Philip Auerswald on the Human Side of Code

Blog Post - PhilipCould our code be making us more human?

When most of us hear the word code, we think of computer code — the digital instructions that drive our devices. But when Philip Auerswald hears the word code, he sees the instructions that drive the human race.

Phil is the author of the book, The Code Economy: A Forty-thousand Year History. He is an Associate Professor at the School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, a Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, and Executive Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network. He is also the co-founder of Innovations, a journal on entrepreneurial solutions to global challenges.

Phil believes that as machines and algorithms play ever bigger roles in our lives, we will actually become more human. This long view of automation–a 40,000-year view–also gives us insight into a different, more innovative perspective on how to think about the future of work.

In this interview we discuss:

  • A broader definition of code as the DNA of human society from the simple to the complex
  • The importance of getting beyond singularity vs dystopian views of humans vs machines
  • How humans will redefine their own value — as they have done repeatedly — as robots, machines and algorithms play a bigger role in our world
  • The fact our ability to learn — to experiment and share what we learn — is what sets us apart
  • How human beings are constantly exploring spaces of possibility
  • How evolving understanding, knowledge, and knowhow results from finding the adjacent possible
  • The fact that cities are actual platforms in that they stand on problems solved in literal ways — sewage and electric power and subway transport
  • How platforms of today are increasingly digital
  • The concepts of bifurcation and substitution where a product is split over time into cheap and high volume vs expensive and low volume, as in watches and clocks
  • How high volume and low cost items typically lend themselves to automation
  • The fact that we are trying to recapture a 1960s way of living and working that is no longer viable
  • How we need to rewire rather than retire
  • The concept of a job has only been around for about 150 years due to the introduction and growth of large-scale institutions that needed people serve in a role and act on specific routines
  • Why subsidizing higher education and retirement are not the right ways to think about the problem of machines, robots, and automation
  • Why the evolutionary nature of ideas and actions opens us up to abundance and new opportunities
  • How it is almost irrational to think our creative processes will come to an end
  • How the inequality that exists within cities and between cities and rural parts of the U.S. are the driver of political discord

Links to Topics Mentioned in this Podcast


Stuart Kauffman

Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford


Nexus by Ramez Naam

Milton Friedman

Permanent income hypothesis

Otto von Bismarck

Larry Harvey and Burning Man

The Absence of Design in Nature

Scale by Geoffrey West

Jose Lobo

Progress and Poverty by Henry George

The Origin of Populist Surges Everywhere by Philip Auerswald

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