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Old 06-02-2019, 08:25 PM
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Default Spreadsheets: One of the Things that Made the Modern Economy

Automation!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csz2w9

that's a video.

here's an article:

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47802280

Quote:
How computing's first 'killer app' changed everything

Spoiler:
In 1978, a Harvard Business School student named Dan Bricklin was sitting in a classroom, watching his accounting lecturer filling in rows and columns on the blackboard.

Every time the lecturer changed a figure, he had to work down and across the grid on the board, erasing and rewriting other numbers to make everything add up, just as accounting clerks all over the world did every day in the pages of their ledgers.

It's boring and repetitive work. A two-page spread across the open fold of the ledger is called a "spreadsheet".

The output of several paper spreadsheets provides the input for larger, master spreadsheets.

Changing any of the data in that chain might mean hours of work with a pencil, rubber, and a calculator.

Like many business school students, Mr Bricklin had had a real job before going to Harvard - he'd worked as a programmer at Wang and DEC, two big players in 1970s computing.

Why on Earth would anyone do this on a blackboard or paper ledger, he wondered, when you could do it on a computer instead?

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations that helped create the economic world.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can listen to all the episodes online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

So he wrote a program for the new Apple II personal computer: an electronic spreadsheet.

His friend Bob Frankston helped him sharpen up the software - and, on 17 October 1979, VisiCalc went on sale.

Almost overnight, it was a sensation.

Image copyrightIBM/1979 SOFTWARE ARTS, INC
Other financial and accounting programs had long existed but VisiCalc was the first with the modern spreadsheet interface.

It is widely thought to be the first "killer app", a software program so essential that you'd buy a computer just to be able to use it.

As Mr Bricklin notes on his website, Steve Jobs later acknowledged that VisiCalc had "propelled the Apple II to the success it achieved".

Within a few years, many accountants and business owners divided their professional experience into two periods: before and after the advent of the electronic spreadsheet.

Image copyrightDAN BRICKLIN
Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before VisiCalc had a new and powerful rival: Lotus 1-2-3.

By 1988, the New York Times reported that Lotus had dominated the spreadsheet market for five years, after toppling VisiCalc "whose dominant share of the personal computer market seemed invincible".

How the mighty were humbled.

The New York Times also described several other upstart challengers, including a program called Microsoft Excel.

But the real lesson of the spreadsheet is not about how monopolies rise and fall but about how technology changes things.

It's a cliche that the robots are coming for our jobs.

But the story is never as simple as that, as the digital spreadsheet proves.

If the concept of a robot accountant means anything, surely it means VisiCalc or Excel. These programs put hundreds of thousands of accounting clerks out of work.

Of course VisiCalc was revolutionary. Of course it was more efficient than a human.

According to the Planet Money podcast, in the US alone, there are 400,000 fewer accounting clerks today than in 1980, the first full year that VisiCalc went on sale.

But Planet Money also found that there were 600,000 more jobs for regular accountants. After all, crunching numbers had become cheaper, more versatile, and more powerful, so demand went up.

The point is not really whether 600,000 is more than 400,000: sometimes automation creates jobs and sometimes it destroys them.

The point is that automation reshapes the workplace in much subtler ways than "a robot took my job".

Image caption
Technology has transformed the jobs of New York Stock Exchange traders such as Lauren Simmons
In the age of the spreadsheet, the repetitive, routine parts of accountancy disappeared. What remained - and indeed flourished - required more judgement, more human skills.

The spreadsheet created whole new industries.

There are countless jobs in high finance that depend on exploring different numerical scenarios - tweaking the numbers and watching the columns recalculate themselves.

These jobs barely existed before the electronic spreadsheet.

I've written before about the Jennifer Unit, an earpiece that directs warehouse pickers to collect products by breaking down instructions into the most mindless, idiot-proof steps.

Image copyrightLUCAS SYSTEMS
Image caption
The voice-directed Jennifer Unit tells workers how best to carry out their tasks
The Jennifer Unit strips a menial task of its last faintly interesting element. The spreadsheet operates in reverse: it strips an intellectually demanding job of the most boring bits.

Viewed together, the two technologies show that technology doesn't usually take jobs wholesale - it chisels away the easily automated chunks, leaving humans to adapt to the rest.

That can make the human job more interesting, or more soul-destroying - it all depends.

In accountancy, it made the human jobs more creative.

The histories of accountancy that I've read don't bother to mention VisiCalc or Excel. Perhaps it seems beneath their dignity.

What the spreadsheet did to accounting and finance is a harbinger of what is coming to other white-collar jobs.

More things that made the modern economy:
Grace Hopper's compiler: Computing's hidden hero

Just Google it: The student project that changed the world

How the world's first accountants counted on cuneiform

Managing the managers: The rise of the business 'philosopher-kings'

Algorithms can churn out routine stories about corporate earnings reports more quickly and cheaply than human journalists.

Some teachers use online tutorials to quiz pupils to identify where they are getting stuck before helping them progress.

A doctor can sometimes be replaced by a diagnostic app.

Robotic surgery is increasingly common and can allow greater precision, flexibility and control than conventional techniques.

Law firms use "document assembly systems" that quiz clients and then draft customised legal contracts.

It is hard to conclude this trend won't continue across other sectors.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption
A surgeon (left) uses a da Vinci surgical robot, controlled by a console, to perform a hysterectomy
But we shouldn't ignore the other cautionary tale the spreadsheet has to offer.

We may think we have delegated a routine job to an infallible computer - but in fact we've simply acquired a lever with which to magnify human error to a dramatic scale.

Consider the time when unsuccessful applicants for a senior police job were told they'd been offered the job: that's what happens when you sort one column without sorting the adjacent one.

Or the time two noted economists, Carmen Reinhart and the former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff, were mightily embarrassed when a graduate student spotted a spreadsheet error in an influential economics paper.

Reinhart and Rogoff accidentally omitted several countries because they forgot to drag down the formula selection box by five more cells.

As Lisa Pollack noted in the FT, the investment bank JP Morgan lost $6bn (4.6bn), in part because a risk indicator in a spreadsheet was being divided not by an average of two numbers but by their sum - making the risks look half as big as they should have done.

If we ask computers to do the wrong thing, they'll do it with the same breathtaking speed and efficiency that inspired Dan Bricklin to create VisiCalc.

That is a lesson we seem doomed to keep learning far beyond the borders of accountancy.

The author writes the Financial Times's Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can listen to all the episodes online or subscribe to the programme podcast.


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Old 06-02-2019, 08:27 PM
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I think I've linked to this before:

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2...=1559459108679
Quote:
Episode 606: Spreadsheets!

Spoiler:
Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

Spreadsheets used to be actual sheets of paper. Sometimes, a bunch of sheets of paper taped together.

Any calculation made on a spreadsheet was done by hand, and these could take days to complete for an accountant or bookkeeper. It was tedious. One little adjustment to these calculations meant a whole day of erasing and filling the same boxes out again.

Then, in the late '70s, a bored student invented the electronic spreadsheet. It transformed industries. It created new jobs, and destroyed others.

But its effects ran deeper than that. It changed the way we assigned value, and made decisions.

As one journalist wrote more than 30 years ago, "The spreadsheet is a tool, and it is also a world view — reality by the numbers."

Today on the show, how the spreadsheet transformed not just finance but health, entertainment, and almost everything else.


Today's show was inspired by A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge, a 1984 article by Steven Levy.

Music: "Sublimely." Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts or PocketCast.


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Old 06-02-2019, 08:28 PM
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http://www.bricklin.com/jobs96.htm

Quote:
Steve Jobs talking about VisiCalc in 1996
In honor of the 35th anniversary of the Apple II, I posted a short excerpt from a documentary where Steve Jobs talks about the importance of the spreadsheet VisiCalc to the success of the Apple II.
Spoiler:
In 1996 the Japanese TV network NHK ran an educational historical documentary called ""Society and Computer (Shin-Denshi Rikkoku)". As part of a section about spreadsheet programs they showed interviews with me, Bob Frankston, Mitch Kapor, Jonathan Sachs, and Steve Jobs. In honor of the 35th anniversary of the first showing of the Apple II at the West Coast Computer Faire that happened this week, I posted the excerpt of Steve Jobs talking about spreadsheets. Here it is on YouTube:


Here's what Steve had to say:

There have been two real explosions that have propelled the industry forward. The first one really happened in 1977, and it was the spreadsheet. I remember when Dan Fylstra, who ran the company that marketed the first spreadsheet, walked into my office at Apple one day and pulled out this disk from his vest pocket and said "I have this incredible new program -- I call it a Visual Calculator," and it became VisiCalc. And that's what really drove -- propelled -- the Apple II to the success it achieved.

This was many years after VisiCalc was developed, so you can forgive Steve for getting the year wrong. It was in 1979 that he first saw it. (The Apple II didn't even have disks that we could buy in 1977...) In any case, it's really nice to see how fondly he remembered the program even after the Mac came out. I share this to add to the historical record. VisiCalc is mentioned in Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve, but not really in Steve's words. This helps you see more of how he portrayed it.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU96Pd_npn4
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Old 06-03-2019, 10:26 AM
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You would be surprised the gigantic errors caused by them too. At a large consulting firm, we routinely made seven figure oopsies (in projection, not actual loss) but still.
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Old 06-03-2019, 10:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mathmajor View Post
You would be surprised the gigantic errors caused by them too. At a large consulting firm, we routinely made seven figure oopsies (in projection, not actual loss) but still.
-I- would be surprised?

I think not.

(I assume you meant the generic "you")

For people who would like to know about big money oopsies where spreadsheets played a large role, there's this AO thread (which I started in 2007, and last added to in April):
http://www.actuarialoutpost.com/actu...d.php?t=106704

And this list kept by the European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group:
http://eusprig.org/horror-stories.htm
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Old 06-03-2019, 10:59 AM
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Oh, and come to my upcoming error-checking webcast!

https://www.actexmadriver.com/orders...x?id=453144126

https://blog.actexmadriver.com/to-er...prevent-divine
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