In a Silicon Valley job interview a few years ago I was asked what fascinates me. “Ants,” was my immediate reply. “Ants work as a team, navigate without instrumentation, lift more than 10x their body weight, and build their colony for future generations.”
The interviewer grimaced. “What about technology?”
“Certainly,” I said. “How oil is extracted from the earth and refined into gasoline that powers my car. How my laptop automatically finds and joins a local wireless network with a few keystrokes. How the phone in my pocket instantly gives me more information than the world’s smartest human could never have even hoped to acquire only a few years ago.”
I continued: “Here’s what especially fascinates me: while ants have been doing the same thing for millennia and the oil industry is fundamentally unchanged in a century, smartphone technology gets better and lighter and more pervasive every day.”
Smartphone apps simplify my life. Flying to Israel? Swipe to my travel screen, tap the United icon and book the flight. Staying in Tel Aviv? Tap Marriott and reserve a room. Swipe two screens to the left and add the dates to my Google calendar. Swipe to another screen and tap WhatsApp to inform my family in our group chat. LinkedIn shows new messages so tap the blue “in” icon and enter the world’s most efficient networking site. Go to Gmail to read personal and work emails. Exit and tap The New York Times to read Kara Swisher’s latest opinion piece. Exit and tap Twitter to read the visceral reactions to it. Remembering my wife’s birthday is coming up, swipe three screens over, tap Amazon and tap, tap, tap – the perfect gift is ordered, paid, shipped. All while riding the commuter train to San Francisco.
My favorite apps also happen to be by companies I’ve worked for. Netflix is known worldwide for streaming entertainment. For seven years I had the privilege of presenting Netflix to consumers, including the evolution from DVD to streaming and launching the company’s first international markets. Moovit, simplifies urban mobility all around the world as an early pioneer of Mobility as a Service and the world’s #1 urban mobility app. Since 2016 I’ve enjoyed introducing Moovit to audiences from Bogota to Yakima – and using the free app to guide my trips on transit in Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the U.S.
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Both Netflix and Moovit share a similar DNA in their respective world-leading data accumulation and analysis, combined with machine learning and AI. Working at these and other tech companies, I know the intense human intellect and labor that goes into enabling this simplicity in our lives. My colleagues – brilliant computer scientists, data analysts, software engineers, developers – are the unsung heroes of the modern human condition.
Most people take smartphone app technology for granted. Not me. I’m fascinated by it. Moreover, I’m grateful for it – and to those who bring it to life every day.
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