Mirror Revolutions: AI and Personal Computers

Mister Technical Writer
3 min readAug 31, 2023

Imagine for a moment you’re a technical writer for IBM in the 1970s and early 1980s. You create user manuals on electric typewriters. And the tidal wave of PCs begins in the 1980s.

Scary?

Early PC

No — Terrifying! How on earth will you keep your job?

[Sound familiar?]

The rise of AI today recalls his revolution. Like the dawn of the PC age, AI promises not just to reshape our tools, but to redefine our entire approach to work.

The 1970s and early 1980s remained in the era of mainframe computers. These behemoths, housed in vast air-conditioned rooms, were the epitome of computational power. Yet, they were inaccessible to most end users. PCs democratized this power. The vision of a computer on every desk was not just about possession but about empowerment. The personal computer heralded a golden age of productivity.

Much like the skeptics of today who warn of AI-induced unemployment, naysayers of the 1980s predicted that PCs would obliterate jobs. And yes, some roles did vanish. Ledger bookkeepers, for instance, were slowly replaced by spreadsheets. However, the rise of the personal computer didn’t lead to widespread unemployment. On the contrary, it catalyzed a significant net increase in jobs.

The PC revolution created entire industries — software development, IT support, computer retail, and more. Beyond the direct job creation in these sectors, PCs enhanced productivity across industries. Real estate agents could now manage listings electronically; designers transitioned from drafting boards to digital design software; and writers moved from typewriters to word processors.

Robot powered by AI

This uptick in productivity led to economic growth. When tasks became easier and more efficient, businesses thrived, leading to more job opportunities. The ripple effect of the PC revolution spread far and wide.

Fast forward to today. AI is on a similar trajectory. While concerns about automation replacing jobs are legitimate, history has shown that technological revolutions tend to create more opportunities than they eradicate. Just as the PC did, AI will unlock avenues previously unimaginable.

New professions are emerging. AI ethicists, data scientists, AI trainers, and many more roles are cropping up. Existing professions, too, are evolving. Doctors are using AI to better diagnose diseases, marketers to understand customer preferences, and educators to personalize learning experiences.

What’s crucial to understand is that AI, much like the PC, is a tool. While it can automate certain tasks, it can’t replace the intricate web of human interactions, creativity, decision-making, and empathy that underpins most jobs. In many scenarios, AI will be a collaborator rather than a replacement.

As we face another technological revolution, it’s essential to remember that with change comes growth. And with growth comes prosperity. We can embrace AI with the same positive spirit that made the PC era so transformative.

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Mister Technical Writer

Bobby B. Kennedy. Tech Writer for > 22 years. Founder, Become a Technical Writer (becometechnicalwriter.com). A hands-on, real-world technical writing course.