For example, Uber has a mobile app (UI) that talks to their servers (API). You can imagine that their servers effectively take three parameters: credit card, drive from, and drive to… and they dispatch a human to do it.
uber.drive(card, pointA, pointB); // pseudocode obviously
What does that make the drivers? Cogs in a giant automated dispatching machine, controlled through clever programming optimizations like surge pricing? Drivers have often told me that the job grants them incredible autonomy: they can drive whenever they feel like it, and they’ve stopped looking for jobs in finance or construction because the daily freedom is so valuable to them. There’s liquidity in the marketplace that allows them to come and go as they see fit. But the actual driving is perfectly orchestrated by software, and it’s not a secret that Uber intends to eventually replace all their drivers with self-driving cars. I worry that the army of Lyft and Uber drivers is opting into an easy, and sometimes-intended-to-be-temporary, dead-end career path. This may be ok at the moment for some drivers who enjoy driving and the flexibility of the job. But driving as an occupation will disappear practically overnight when self-driving cars hit the road.
Similarly, 99designs Tasks has a web interface for the customer to explain a simple and quick design task, plus an API to dispatch a visual designer to complete the task. At Segment we’ve actually built a 99designs Tasks API to create vector logos from an image url:
99designs.logo(card, url); // pseudocode ;)
What’s bizarre here is that these lines of code directly control real humans. The Uber API dispatches a human to drive from point A to point B. And the 99designs Tasks API dispatches a human to convert an image into a vector logo (black, white and color). Humans are on the verge of becoming literal cogs in a machine, completely anonymized behind an API. And the companies that control those APIs have strong incentives to drive down the cost of executing those API methods.
Peter Reinhardt wrote this a while back on replacing middle managers with APIs. It speaks to a broader trend, but depicting this gaping skills gap as an API call is an elegant visualization.