Code. The word has had a mystical quality to it since its inception. Its origins come from the Latin word “codex,” which was a book constructed of paper bound by stacking papers and fixing one edge. Before that, tablets or scrolls were used. The spread of the codex quickly became popular and was associated with the rise of Christianity.
Since then it’s taken on many different forms. A code can be a compendium of laws or rules: to write them up is to codify them. In wars, the different sides would communicate in codes or ciphers and spies would transport them. All sorts of code-related words came about as a result. Encode, decode, codebreaker, code names, code books and my favorites, the “Code Talkers.” The code talkers were a group of 400-500 Native Americans who were used to send and receive messages in their native languages. Many think it was strictly Navajo, but it was pioneered by the Cherokee and Choctaw Indians during the first world war and included a wide variety of tribes and even Basque speakers.
Technology was employed to increase the complexity and speed of producing these codes. Perhaps one of the most interesting and difficult-to-crack technological systems was the Enigma Machine, invented by Germans to encrypt their communications. Alan Turing, who was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science and AI, was central in cracking the intercepted code messages from the Enigma machines.
With the rise of computers, code took on a whole new set of meanings. “Code” became the shorthand many used to talk about computer programming. One who understood and wrote computer programs was known as a “coder,” and being able to code became cool. It’s been said that being able to code is the new literacy, although I’m not really convinced of that. An illiterate person cannot read or write, so if coding is the new literacy, that would mean that being unable to read or write code is the equivalent of being unable to function in computer society. I don’t believe that is so. While coding can be useful in your job, it’s your ability to use the programs that were coded, like a word processor or a web browser, that determines your ability to function in our world today.
And coding has taken on whole new definitions. Back in the genesis of computers, coding meant you were able to program in a language like basic, or machine language. These days, I’ve heard people say that you need to know how to code to write a webpage. I find working with something like HTML to be more akin to using a primitive word processor to being able to program. Especially when there are more advanced HTML generators like WordPress and others that can make it so that one doesn’t need to know a thing about HTML. Though newer advances in HTML, like HTML 5, definitely blur the lines, if not break them outright. And web-based programming languages, like PHP and Coldfusion, are solidly in the realm of coding.
What was your first exposure to code and what does it mean to you? Was a it a movie like “Hackers” that inspired a generation of phone-phreaks, hackers, and viruses? Was it a favorite book like “Neuromancer”?
And where do you think coding will be 10 years from now? Will legions of programmers still be typing in instructions? Will it be virtual reality headsets and some form of object-based coding? Or will we have the direct neural interfaces to our brains, resulting in the internet being visualized as a virtual reality world in which we work? Or will we be getting our exercise in by using whole body gestures like in Minority Report? Will coders still be writing apps or applications? Or will they be building artificial intelligences that are smart enough to help us do our work, or just outright do it? Or in 10 years, will AIs have taken over the world and we’ll be living the plot of the Terminator movies? What are your thoughts?