Derek Sivers

Where we do and don’t want automation


I used to use Gmail. But one day, as I typed my mother’s email address into the “To:” field, Google popped up a prompt asking if I also wanted to CC my uncle. That was so invasive and creepy that I deleted the account immediately and never used it again. I don’t want automated intelligence in my private email.

My friend lives in a home full of the smartest technology, and loves getting all the new smart things, but he drives a deliberately retro old car with no computer chips. He loves to tinker with his car, and wants to do any maintenance himself.

Another friend lives in a tech-free rustic cabin with no screens, but drives a Tesla.

I do everything on a broken old Linux laptop, using only the command line, usually offline, nothing in the cloud. I think it’s because I don’t want any outside automation or intelligence in the work that matters to me.

When software is described as “auto-”, “smart”, or “intelligent” it means that somebody else put their rules into it. But I don’t want my computer to do anything I didn’t explicitly tell it to do. It shouldn’t change what I typed unless I tell it to. It should never guess or predict what I want. I want full manual control.

On the other hand, I don’t mind if my phone does these things, because I don’t care about my phone much. And I would love a high-tech car, full of smart AI automation, because I’m not a car aficionado.

At first I thought that an expert at something won’t want assistance. But no, of course, auto-pilot for airline pilots, and IDEs for programmers.

So I think it comes down to:

  1. how much of an expert you are at controlling this thing yourself
  2. how much you still enjoy doing it
  3. if you want the kind of assistance it provides

Any thoughts on this subject? I’d love to hear another point of view.