Human Resources

Oscar-tipped Hidden Figures is bang on the (negative) tech trends

Hidden Figures tells the story of three heavily discriminated against female African American mathematicians working at NASA in the 1960s.

Based on the true stories of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, this covers so many news trending issues, it is not hard to see why it has been tipped for Best Picture at this weekend’s Oscars.

 

Sexism in tech – discrimination is the backbone of this film and it has also been all over the news this week with the story of the Uber engineer who wrote about her dreadful experiences within this flagship tech company. This is an issue that never seems to go away.

 

Automation fears – this film succinctly covers the entire wider argument around automation in story form. Initially our heroine is automated out because IBM mainframes can do her job quicker. However, the mainframes also create new work for a whole team of people. While in the end one astronaut doesn’t trust the machine’s figures because he can’t “look it in the eye”.

 

The space race – things may be very different from the historic NASA space race against the Russians but these days, people are talking about the new ‘commercial space race’ with plenty of big tech players like Elon Musk entering the fray.

 

Mainframes are still an issue – back in the 1960s mainframes were the brand new challenger technology set to replace the workforce. Now things have gone full circle and despite numerous advances these great lumbering machines are still doing surprising volumes of work for big organisations and they are the ones which are difficult to replace.

 

Racism in the tech – this may not get as much ‘airtime’ in the tech industry today as sexism but it is a story that never really disappears. And while it is also not necessarily unique to the sector, like NASA in the 1960s, this is a place which tends to attract a very white group of workers.

 

Humanity vs. the machine – in Hidden Figures, Katherine G. Johnson has the job title ‘computer’ but it is her ability to see beyond the numbers that makes her unique. As the fear of AI increases the importance of softer human capabilities – like creativity – are getting tipped as the most critical skills for the future.  

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