APIcon 2014: Everything is Programmable

Michael Vizard
May. 28 2014, 05:04PM EDT

As API use continues to broaden, it’s conceivable that APIs will soon evolve into a conduit for sharing information that will expand far beyond application software. Speaking at the APIcon 2014 conference today, author and freelance developer Keith Axline expounded on a theory that he initially explored in an article that first appeared in Wired, titled “The Universe Is Programmable. We Need an API for Everything.”

Because the universe essentially consists of “chunks of data” that in one form or another have inputs and outputs, Axline contends that everything is programmable. The challenge is finding the right inputs and outputs. For example, the brain obviously has some input when it comes to vision. Axline says that discovering the right set of inputs should allow for the creation of an implant that would give everyone perfect vision.

Axline says it’s already apparent that APIs are trickling down to consumers in a way that will increasingly allow them to program their daily lives. In fact, he says, before too long every individual will be a programmer to one degree or another, especially as more grade schools continue to teach programming to every student enrolled.

Taking that through to its logical conclusion, Axline says that not only are physical things programmable, so too are intangible attributes such as relationships, politics, morality and emotions. Each of these aspects of our lives, he says, responds to changes to inputs and outputs that essentially make them programmable. In fact, Axline says that thinking like a programmer has improved the overall quality of his life.

To facilitate turning everything into something that can be programmed, Axline is calling for a mechanism to be developed under which APIs are used to more efficiently share knowledge across public domains. Instead of thinking in terms of APIs as weapons to be added to the arsenal of corporate warfare, Axline says APIs should primarily be used as a mechanism to more efficiently share knowledge to “overclock” the human brain.

In fact, he predicts it won’t be too long before a younger generation coming of voting age starts to leverage APIs and crowdsourcing to transform how entire governments function for the better.

Axline concedes that he is close to viewing APIs as the latest instance of a unified theory for everything. But the fact remains that APIs are starting to emerge as a universal language. As such, he says the ultimate goal should be to share everything across the symphony of the universe. As a result, Axline says, going forward APIs should not be thought of so much as a fad or a metaphor, but rather a new lifestyle.

The degree to which life as we know it can be reduced to methods and variables for accessing inputs and outputs is, of course, open for debate. But as nontechnical APIs written by nontechnical people inevitably emerge, Axline says the universe increasingly looks like the result of the ultimate six-day hackathon that has no end of inputs and outputs. The problem today is that we still don’t understand how to really control any of those inputs and outputs.

Michael Vizard

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