On the declining production costs and coming remixability of software

“As we become more sophisticated, our ideas about what our word processor, ourgraphics system should > do for us diverge more and more from those of the initial designers. We now want to edit our tools as we > have previously edited our documents.” -Alan Kay, Apple Computer Corporation, Sept 1984

The High Cost of Software

Software is expensive to build today because there are very few software engineers. There are about 8 billion people in the world, but only about 28 million software developers. So the number of people who can build software rounds to roughly 0. Yet everyone in the world wants and needs software. Up till now, we’ve been prevented from getting what we actually want due to the high cost of production. Talented engineers only have a limited number of hours in a day to build so they need to get paid for their rare skill.

Software for the Masses

Building software has been expensive so we’ve become accustomed to accepting software designed for the masses. Today’s designers aim to serve the broadest set of users possible so the high cost of building gets amortized over a large number of people. That means no one gets exactly what they want, but everyone gets something that’s good enough to be useful.

AI changes WHO builds software

AI brings us tools that democratize software development. As production becomes cheaper, it changes who can build software. This changes how software gets designed, developed, and deployed, which creates an explosion in how much new software gets built. We can appreciate how AI code generation models help software engineers build. It’s easy to see how these tools can improve their efficiency. But we can organize these same tools in ways that change who builds software. And who builds software matters.
You can squint and see a future where we can all build our own custom software. We’ve seen this kind of auto-generation in the domains of language, images, and video. We'll soon see it in the domain of software creation.

Free-to-build encourages remixing

In the future you’ll notice a simple need and you’ll be able to conjure up a micro-app in minutes to address it. The economics of creating and owning software changes. Anything a user dreams up is low effort to create and copyable by someone else. That’s a good thing. It makes software more like media. Micro-apps become building blocks. Other users can remix them adding new functionality. We can now equip software with the same memetic super powers as we have with short-form video. This is the future of software. But no one has built the end-to-end tools to enable this yet.
These user-to-user creative interactions make the value of software compound. But we’ll need some network (or protocol?) to manage the specifications and data across these apps if they’re going to be collaborative.
Forget the drudgery of design, implementation, testing, deployment, monitoring, upgrading, and data migration. This will happen behind the scenes. Who thinks about flipping electrical signals in silicon these days? We operate at a higher level of abstraction.

Implications of an AI codegen revolution

  • The amount of software created increases by at least 3 orders of magnitude. Likely much more like 5-10 orders of magnitude.
  • The concept of “charging for apps” feels dated. If everyone can conjure anything into existence for pennies, why “buy” when you can “create”? “Make me a free version of app ABC”.
  • The importance of modern app stores declines. Non-technical users create micro-apps and use them. For this to work it needs to be simple. This future might look like something of a super-app for user-generated micro-apps. Or they get deployed as PWAs.
  • How data gets stored and shared could get radically reimagined.
  • These micro-app/remix concepts may themselves become the basis for a new type of app store. If this were a company, I think it would likely become the most important company in AI.
  • A new layer of collaboration commoditizes adjacent AI layers. A hyperscaler could attempt to build this layer, but it seems as likely as someone new doing it.
At this point it's all up for grabs. If you’re building something like this DM me — I’d love to play with your project and give feedback!
Love the foresight you have reached, thinking about AI and Nostr. Enjoyed you discussing it on the pod in recent months. I’ve got a post coming next week too but more for implications of Nostr.
Here are my additions:
  • Advertising - 95% reduced
  • Subscriptions - Dead as a dodo
  • iPhone exodus - people will realise no longer locked-in if not paying for services. Creating room for niche manufacturers or new OS options.
  • Databases - disused and rust away, if don’t allow users to build their own data structures and models (not sure I’ve seen anyone building this architecture!)
  • Onboarding offboarded - try before you fly to become new standard (no longer 10 signup screens)
  • Copyright craze - struggle after struggle in the courts this decade, with litigation after litigation for who owns code and content. Being a lawyer will be fun for once!
  • Explosion of Torrenting - streaming providers are going to have incredibly uncompetitive pricing as subscription revenue plummets, leading people to wanting to own and host content and/or distribute to others outright. Not NastyFraudulentTokens.
  • Custom - (us on the fringes particularly) will have increasing amounts of ways to customise off-the-shelf code without dev hours
  • Winners- Vercel will be the new App Store of choice, is my prediction
Without ads or subscriptions where will people monetize?
I know my comments are a bit hyperbolic, particularly for someone that wants better subscriptions for bitcoin. I just think we’re in a bubble right now.
Both will still exist, just at a fraction of what we currently see. It seems to me everything has been overly monetised and is overly expensive. The cost of content, knowledge and access will trend much lower.
In general, I just think services will need to be more transparent, with less commitment upfront and be less scammy. Plus more community focused, where you’re accessing a pool of resources from people that think like you. And amongst those people you share resources and info. Without that, entrepreneurs may have a hard time convincing people of the value of their products long-term. Probably a year or 18 months away from this repricing, with deflation in service-based businesses to come.
yea, I think these are concepts worth watching... they may not all work, but they could give a hint at the direction we're heading!
I've heard people talk about Vercel in this context, but I don't know much about it or how it might become an App Store of choice. Can you say more?
Everyone is deploying code to GitHub, GitLab or Butbucket and using Vercel or Replit to test deployment. It monitors your repo code and essentially provides you with a live functioning url of your code. Basically zero friction & currently zero-cost website hosting for early side projects. Without a server.
Should every developer continue to use that service, which I see no reason why they won’t, the Vercel team just need to allow content to be indexed and become discoverable. With trending repos, using AI to categorise them and allow the “mini-apps’ you mention to be tested before you integrate or adopt them.
No developer wants to spend hours or even days focused on just packaging-up, deploying code and setting up a server if they don’t know if their idea will get traction. They want to iterate fast and quickly, using the AI tools available. AWS will have a fraction of the influence in future, simply because Vercel and Replit make the developer experience 10x better and are constantly building tools to improve speed to deployment for devs.
They may not be great at monetising today, but they have tiers for all customers and costs to use their CDN network are lower. If they were to solve the discovery problem, I feel like they would be self-sufficient and corner the market without needing extra funding. Particularly as we may see a shift away from Apple and Google into PWAs or side-loadable apps on mobile.
I do wish we’d see a decentralised CDN version, but Vercel seems to be killing it. Just my 2 sats.
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No. What is it? The website doesn't explain to me anything, and ask me straight to register ...
well if you want it to happen, you make it happen. Thats the whole thing about FOSS. In fact, im looking for a good project to start contributing in, do you know one?
I agree we need more alternatives. I'm a fan of open-source/self-hosted AIs, but I think it's healthy for venture backed companies to invest heavily in productizing SOTA models. Ideally we get these tools into the hands of more people sooner and we will learn how far we need to push these models to get the results we need/want.
Maybe there are diminishing returns at some scale and open-source/self-hosted is able to approach the best private corp stuff.
If my hypothesis plays out the SOTA model builders aren't particularly advantaged at this collab layer. Who creates the collab layer and is it open source (e.g. Nostr-based?) are the most important questions in my mind.
A.I can build softwares but to get customise softwares still needs that organic approach of a dev
what are the types of software you suspect an AI cannot build? genuinely curious if you have beliefs around what's possible here.
chat-gtp code is full of bugs and bad assumptions.
devs are a dime a dozen. they're everywhere. you want an app built. just say it here. they'll be a landslide of offers to build it. nostr is loaded with devs working on all sorts of things. #smij #grownostr