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Ask HN: Is software engineering a dying field?
7 points by aliuqet 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments
Sooner or later our over-dependence on fossil fuels will have to end. While renewables will help us, our energy demands will likely have to decrease significantly. Since most of computer science is very energy intensive, will the use of software engineering/ technology decrease?





You've chained together several assumptions I don't think are correct.

> Sooner or later our over-dependence on fossil fuels will have to end.

This could be in a very long time.

> While renewables will help us, our energy demands will likely have to decrease significantly.

I doubt we will respond to climate changes if this is a requirement. More likely we respond with carbon sequestration, climate engineering, capturing, and clearning fossil fuels.

> Since most of computer science is very energy intensive, will the use of software engineering/ technology decrease?

This amount of energy computing requires compared to things like driving, public transit, flying, a/c, etc... is so small (2%) that if we don't have the energy to compute we're living in a subsistence style world. And there is no way the majority of the population will decide to live like that to avoid climate change.


On the contrary, if energy became very expensive, we finally might get time to engineer our software. For example, a Json-based micro service likely would use less energy if it used a custom-designed binary protocol. Currently, spending a man-year writing and testing that protocol is too expensive, though. If that would become economical, that would be work for a software engineer (possible helped by some machine-learning software)

Similarly, the end of Moore’s law could be a boon to software engineering. It could become worthwhile to fine-tune the initial capacity of every single container, the hash function of every hash map, etc.


Hopefully expectations would adjust too. A command line app isn’t too geeky after all, and yes anyone who can use the electron app can use the “DOS” version too, like we did in the 80s

Wind and solar power means we will almost certainly have an almost infinite supply of electricity in only a few years. The problem with those sources is of course that they are not always available when demand peaks. But those who are able to schedule their loads will be able to take massive advantage of them. Google, for example, and everyone else who runs electricity hungry learning and optimization algorithms.

Nuclear, in one form or another, can work in most of the world and has enough fuel for at least the next 3000 years by most estimates. The areas that it shouldn't be used in can use renewables.

Most items that use electricity are becoming more efficient as is the renewable infrastructure. For example, there is a promising incandescent light design that is supposed to be even more efficient than current LEDs. Solar panels have increased in efficiency over the years and the plan is to place them in orbit (even more efficient) and beam the engery back to earth using infrared lasers. Not to mention many new renewable technologies being researched too.

Any future reduction in software engineers will not be due to energy availability. Automation, politics (eg. economic collapse, maybe due to our consumption based economy and the eventual regulations dealing with overpopulation), or a catastophic scenario (eg. Carrington event or pole flip) would be more likely.


Current computers use about 10 orders of magnitude more energy than physical limits under reasonable conditions (e.g. no black hole.) The practical limiting factor for a large CPU is already heat rejection, and if there were to be any more miniaturization (particularly 3-d) the power consumption per operation has to go way down.

Even if energy becomes more intermittent and expensive in the future, it is not clear if energy efficiency improves faster than the energy becomes scarce or the other way around.


This question seems like an extreme reach to a questionable conclusion.

Lol what? Software engineering is the present and future.

It's the link between the physical world and digital (human made) world.

Any device will become a part of a techno-sphere. If you are somebody who can leverage your skills to add to that, you are valuable.


Not software engineering. What you are saying is that capitalism and infinite growth is impossible and at some point it will be needed to cut it back. But that is impossible so we will keep creating ways to postpone the downfall. Until it falls.



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