Alan Kay Keynote at NATF 2013 Part 2

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okay so here's another idea we love news
  and we are very troubled by new I
can  think about it
news is completely  incremental to
what we already know it
deals entirely in categories that we  already have
so news is oh there's
been  a shooting over here a car crash over
  here somebody did a good deed over here  etc
etc so you can
get through a whole  bunch of news items in 20 minutes or so
  new has the problem that if it's really
  new it's like those flies
or something  that your
your dream and your
ghost  haven't seen before so
it might be truly  invisible might be right in front of you
  but you might not even be able to see it
or you might convert it into something  you've seen before and
miss what it was  and so forth and news
is about campfires  and new
is about learning
because we have to learn some of the  things
we've learned genetically there's  a lot known about what babies
know when  they were born there's a bunch of things  that
we learn very readily as we'll see  in a second and
then there's some new  stuff that's appeared in the
hundred years that is actually rather  difficult to learn and
it was only  discovered recently in
large part  because it is not at all obvious to
our  nervous system and those kind of things
  were the things that caused schools to  be invented
so I'm trying
to talk  about new here but I can't this
is a  campfire right this
is why Nicholas told  a bunch of wonderful
stories because  that is how you communicate in a
  campfire and the problem
with campfires  is we had them for two hundred thousand  years
and didn't accomplish a goddamn  thing is
when we got out of the  campfires and started
trying to deal  maybe getting
around what our senses are  even trying to tell
us that we started  making progress so I have to
talk about  the new in terms of something
that  always has to be manifested
in a news  forum and
our built-in learning
is  essentially
remembering we're actually  not very good at
learning for a variety  of reasons and
most of learning  throughout most of human
history is  rather like erosion
anybody have any  erosion gullies in there
we don't have  them that
much in California because in  theory it never rains here
of course  outside it's a heavy
dude today  but
basically what happens is you don't  know where
the rain is going it disturbs  something
there's maybe a pebble that  doesn't get
disturbed and something else  does get disturb you get a little gully  then
the cool thing about gullies is  because
they have this slope once you
get the thing started it starts running  a lot of water
into that random thing
and all of a sudden you get one of these  guys this
is our memory system it's
basically always building on what's  there it's very hard
for us to forget  one of the things people
who do talks  are told
by talk advisors is
the chances  that they'll remember anything
you say  are low but they'll absolutely
remember  how you made them feel
because that is
what is actually going  on here I'm just trying
to get past that  a little bit
yeah so almost all learning  and throughout
history and even a lot of  it's still in the United
States and  other countries to do is by rote
  thinking that remembering some pattern
  is good enough for 21st
century learning  turns out that could not
be farther from  the case
but we even test for it and
  when we have we love explanations
the  problem is we're not very critical of  the explanations
so we get one of these  guys I'm
really miss them out here in  California
but the most popular idea
in  history has been there's some guy up  there
with superpowers throwing  lightning bolts around
and would you  like to be
that guy
and we just hate
  it's things that are better explanations
  if they don't have any punch
and sizzle  to them and now
Maxwell's equations has  beauty but
it doesn't have a plot it
  doesn't have a hero except Maxwell and
  he's not there and so we love
stories  and we're quite
indifferent as a species  to science it's
actually developed taste  and
so vastly more people in the world
  still believe in stories and this is the  problem with
kids kids are incredibly  curious as Nicholas
pointed out the  problem is
is that we humans when we're  curious
and we want an explanation for
something our brains are satisfied with  a story
so every time we express
curiosity as a child unless we're that  one child
in a thousand we will accept  the
story and okay that's the that's the  reason for
this and this is the reason  for that and so forth this produces
adults that have the same thing and they  tell their children stories
  get nowhere
so we love religion and  relief and
thinking is painful
another  thing we are
social social means a lot
  of things notice I'm using here
some  alliteration here because
it's our  brains are so bad that
alliterations  actually are easier
to learn everybody
remember if the glove doesn't fit then  you must acquit
how dumb was Johnny Cochran no
no I know  I'm changing
the subject that's
an  alliteration but
the reason he did that  is because our
brains happen to think  things that rhyme are more true and
  Johnny Cochran is not a dumb guy
and he  was dealing with jurors who weren't
  sophisticated so
one of the exit  interviews in that trial
was to a juror  who was asked well what about the DNA  evidence
and she said well that's just  science
literally I saw that review my  that
interview myself
so important
thing  here is is there's a trade-off
between  competition and cooperation and there's
  a lot of cheating and
the study cheating  has been studied very
very closely  because it's the
most interesting thing  why do we
do it even when it's against  our better long-term
interests we cheat  ourselves we cheat other
people in  various ways just
something to think  about and we're tribal
and the tribes  radiate out
from us we're tribal
they  say in the Middle East
me against my  brother my brother and I against
family our family against the neighbors  our
neighborhood against the city and
  spheres going out
and it's very easy to  convert
people who've never met each  other before into
a tribe done
all the  time touch football
something that  everybody kind of knows how to
do put  one group against another and amazing
  things happen
so here's some esas here
social stories  status and subterfuge
are characterized  us
as a as a species and in fact  anthropologists
have been studying this  for about a hundred years
and here's a  partial list
because they're about 300
  these are traits
that when looking
at  3,000 different societies these
are  traits that are never absent
okay this  is why
they're called universals most
of  these traits are
thought to be in born
  these are things
that so we aren't born  with a particular
language but we're  born with the
propensity to pick up the  local language
why do they think that's  special
well we're not born with
propensity to learn how to read and  write
they've never found a society that  didn't have a language but
societies they looked at didn't have a  writing system
in spite of the fact that  a writing system
is really the simplest  distance if
you think of it in one  sphere from
I'm it's just writing down  the very things
that you're saying what
could be a simpler idea than that but in  fact it's not occurred
to most human  societies on the planet it's
actually an  invention and a relatively recent one
  and it takes a
while to learn a lot of  these so it takes years
before you're  allowed for instance
to take communion  in the Catholic Church in
spite of the  fact that we're made for religion
so  it's interesting to
look at all of these  things
that characterize human beings  and
you female
mitochondrial DNA says
  we've been on the
planet for about under  ninety three thousand
years and hunting  and gathering
has been a
mode that has  lasted that entire time and
agriculture  came in as an invention
most likely by  women one
of the most important  inventions of all time about
11,000  years ago so
there's a lot of the same  and then
a major invention that started  transforming
things this is on a scale
  of 1 pixel every 200 years
  okay it's hard these long
time I hate  showing log scale
things because most  people cannot interpret
the powers of 10  change its
right so it's nice to
say  pixels 200 years that's
sort of within  our range well
let's take something like  saving
for the future which is certainly
part of any kind of sustainable theory  in fact
it's one
of the big deals in  agriculture
don't eat
your seed corn and  yet
interesting enough in the United  States the
on the average we
are eating  our seed corn
we are actually removing  the
margins that we need in order to  change our
mind or to deal with  unexpected events so
that is a really  interesting thing and it really
from the  time that they've been looking at this  the first
time it actually went negative
  was just a few years ago
so this is I  think quite significant
and the reason  I'm putting it up here
is to ask you to  think about what is the psychological  shift
that could have happened that
  would cause people to actually go back
and do what is essentially a hunting and  gathering mode what
kind of assumption  because I'm getting honey hunters
and  gatherers don't
worry about that
because  what happens when they
out gather and  out hunt the place they are
they just  move on because if you're
only a tribe  of a couple of 100 and there's less
a few hundred thousand of you on the  entire planet no
problem you just keep  on moving there's
just nothing in our  genetic makeup
that makes us want
once the anthropologists looked at  universals they
got very interested in  well what are some of the things
that we  can find in different
societies that are  not in all societies that are actually  important
so the first one of course is  writing
some societies have formed
all  societies do something with arithmetic  but
only a few have done something with
  deductive mathematics science
is only a  few hundred years old most
societies you  die in
the same society you were born  into
some societies have the idea of new  in progress
but what's built into us is  coping
we are great copers this by the  way
this is one of the reasons why  computing is in such difficulties
today  how many people here are programmers
  okay here's
my experience when I started  50 years ago actually on
one of the  machines downstairs they
got it working  again too that's pretty funny
the 1401  but basically
it was somebody else's  machine somebody else's programming
language somebody else's problem  somebody else's
theory of how to write  the program and
it was in order to
  survive in that environment you had to  deal with an
enormous amount of stuff a  lot of it was crap even
then 50 years  ago nothing like the pile of
crap today  that you have to deal with but if you're
  not basically a koper
you're not going  to stay a programmer for long you're
going to go into something to go into  management push
other people around
  so thought
has changed from remembering
actually understanding things one
of  the toughest inventions that we know of
  in the human panoply is equal
rights  it's one of the hardest to learn we're
  struggling with it still and
so on
so  learning curves on these guys
and they're all so principled they
are  not generally picked up on the job there
  are things that actually require quite
a  bit of prep and they're
more or less at  odds with the general
human way of  learning by doing
traditional societies  don't have schools because
the kids  watch what the adults are doing they
  hunt squirrels the adults are hunting
  antelope and so it's just a continuity
  what you do as a child is where as Maria  Montessori pointed
out that well that  doesn't obtained
at all in the
20 20th  century because a young girl
dressed in  a nurse's uniform playing
with a  stethoscope is only imitating
of what an adult does but not the  content in fact
most adult activities in  the 21st century are
actually formal
  rather than content 'full as they are in
  traditional societies so that is a  pretty
important big deal so
back to  the timeline here
so writing is about  5,500 years ago
we thought printing
  press 500 science
US Constitution I put  it up there not
as a governance thing  but as one of the first times
human  beings in history that we know
of  actually thought in systems terms that
  is actually a design
of an operating  system for a machine
full of millions of  somewhat uncooperative and
noisy parts  namely us and so
it's a very interesting  to read about how they thought about  what
it was that they're trying to do  because they were trying to put in error
  correction mechanisms into this thing  that they wanted
to be as freewheeling  as possible that was one of the
newest  ideas in human history germ
theory of  disease modern medicine if you look
at  these in terms of modern human lifetimes
  of about 80 years can see that
printing press is only  seven modern human lifetimes
and our  world is not like the world
the Middle  Ages that the printing press was born
  into our world started happening in the  17th
century so it's really only
a few  hundred years old as far as what we
take  for granted here
and not everybody takes  it for granted because
most of the world  doesn't actually have that
as a  framework for thinking about what normal
  could be I'm not saying ours is better  i'm just
saying what happened in
Europe  a few hundred years ago was
  cataclysmically different from standard
  human development
so sustainability Carl
  Sagan oh boy do we miss him
we treat
his planet as though we had someplace  to go after agreement well yeah
what the way hunters and gatherers deal  with anything
they do have some place to  go after
they ruin it the natural  tendency
of humans to strip-mine  Einstein
had a good one we can't solve  our problems with the same level
thinking that created them that's scary  if you aren't scared
by that one you  you're missing something and
tony hoare  a great
computer scientist who's in the  Hall
of fellows outside the door here
he  pointed out debugging is harder than  programming
so don't use your maximum  cleverness when programming this
is one  of them this is one of the biggest bugs
  in computing is people unleash
every  ounce of cleverness they have on making
  the buggy thing and they they they
have the perspective to deal with all of  the interactions that
their cleverness  wasn't so this is so
these two I think  are quite complementary don't
you they  actually fit together very
very nicely  two different ways of showing
it this is  a maximal human thinking bug
here so  here this is what we are here
we are  basically cave people with briefcases
like to think we're something better  but
in fact this is what we're what  we're dealing
with and the big problem
is that briefcase can hold nuclear  weapons
the old days it only held
rocks  and
we still get
the same old pachinko  machine up there
and so this is a  scaling problem
we weren't that  dangerous even
when we wanted to be a  hundred thousand years ago
because we  just didn't yeah
we could whack somebody  with a stick and but
you could actually  rush somebody who's
gone nuts and  whacking people with a stick
somebody's got an assault weapon or a  nuclear weapon
you can own Russia
so  this puts a qualitative
disaster on  every horizon you
combine the two you  get a yikes and
there's some really  great cartoons here I'll read the  captions
for you the one at the top is  mr. Oompa
has simply worked here for  ages
so I'm hoping now your minds are
  thinking about whom business that is a  lot
like hunting and gathering isn't it  it's
not at all like the United States  Constitution which
is all about  cooperating it's actually all
about  competition is all about wiping things
  out it's
about short-term goals rather  than long-term planning
but one on the  bottom is even
better the guys saying  AHA for
precisely how long were you a  hunter and gather it
trying to make this entertaining but  I'm hoping
you seeing that this is dead  serious stuff
and so Carl
again he says we live in a  society exquisitely dependent
on science  and technology in which
knows anything about science and  technology
and so
here's some RS words
and in spite  of the fact that we
do a little science  as far as the general population is
concerned on the entire planet including  the u.s. we
really haven't gotten  science into normal thinking
we haven't  gotten scaling into normal thinking we  haven't
gotten systems into normal  thinking and we haven't gotten  sustainability
and normal thinking these  things are not actually
on anybody's top  10 list or
top 100 list most
people have  not built up the background
for even  thinking about these things and so
another way of looking at this is here
  are four exquisite
systems that are all  part
of one system that we actually deal  with so
we have basically the system of  the natural world
science we have behind the figure
there  we have a crowd our
culture social  systems this
is a picture of self  portrait of the internet
representing  technology all the technology
the  logical systems we're doing and then we
have hundreds of systems that make us  ourselves
up we are a system of systems
  all of these systems are nonlinear
all of them are actually interacting  with each other and
so if we don't  actually get some systems consciousness
  we aren't going to be able to
talk about sustainability is why I  haven't said anything about  technological
solutions to  sustainability because
most people  technology is a
perverse form of inverse  vandalism
any but everybody
what i mean by in what does van  vandalism is destroying
something  because you can saying
i'm here to  inverse vandalism is what
we engineers  do we make things
because we can just  because we can
this museum i went
  through the exhibit hadn't been back
  here for a while and i was struck by how
  much crap there was
it's actually very  confusing because it
is actually like a  flea market where
there are a hundred  thousand different items each one of  which
one or two people thought
important that they went to the probably  difficulty of actually
manufacturing  these and yet
most of them are just  complete crap
because I ideas are cheap
  good ideas are hard the
regular ideas  are a dime a dozen most of
them are  mediocre down to bed and so
in order
things including what's wrong with our  technology
can't we have to heat  Einstein and tony hoare
is anybody here  see the movie spy
game one of my  favorites
and there's a line in here  went
Robert Redford access his secretary
she's wondering why is he doing this now  and he said when
did Noah build the ark  before the flood Gladys before
the flood  and so if you think about
what that  means well our biggest problem
sustainability and all of these things  is
we can't imagine nearly as well as we
  can experience that
makes sense to
f the most amazing things and I've  documented this and
I'm not going to  burden you with them but it's
collected  cases of
people who have
like dived into
  a raging flood river to save a child
  they've never seen before
some of these  people were
asked whether they had
  supported building higher
dams most of  them hadn't
so one of the most  interesting
things about it is how  heroic we can be and on
each other's  behalf when there's a disaster but
how  blank we are when it comes to thinking
about the disaster that hasn't happened  yet this
is why this new kind of  imagination
is needed
another way  looking at is because
we're talking  everybody loves change how
many people  here work for a business
o over I don't know 45 years or so
I've  done most of my research at businesses  and
every six
months or so there are  meetings about
hey we have to  re-engineer the system they there's
some  phrase about and
everybody's  enthusiastic about it because yes of  course
we do you know we're fucking up  all over the place of
course we have to  fix it the school American
school system  desperately needs to be fixed
no kidding  so everybody
loves it except
he change part oh
so we can deal  with something intellectually just
we can talk about sustainability but  when it comes to actually
do it these  other parts of the pachinko machine
kick  in because almost all
changes are  impugning our own reality
this is why  especially religious
wars are so  terrible because
once you've identified  with a religion you
can't have a real  discussion about it with somebody else
  because at some point either you or they
  are actually attacking your own identity
  because you've tied us so closely to
  this so this is why things rarely happen
  it's sort of the low-pass filter
that  takes every idea down to a dial tone
and  we wind up coping
and way we cope is by
  making things quote-unquote better
so  here's a we
can put anything over here  I've got 75
years there put anything  could be learning
could be change  anything anything
we need to get better  at
and here's what we do in America we  make this
graph every time that guy goes  up
there's an article in the paper and  people cheer
and every time it goes down  there's an article
in the paper and  people moan let's
say it's reading these  are reading scores
that look familiar is  it may be there
too going up reading is  probably trending
yeah turns out it's  completely irrelevant
because if you  don't read that well you
aren't reading  and the real
problem in America is  almost no children are fluent in reading
  enough to read for purpose
this whole  system has been
game down to the point  where these
things are deemed to be  significant
where we're produced the  nation that cannot do
anymore  and the
conflict is usually between
this  idea of better
well at least we're  improving
least we're getting better  then
there the other con the other  extreme is but it's
not perfect never  been
in a meeting between the betters  and the perfect just
drives you crazy  because they're both
completely wrong  the
better guys are dealing in the news  range they're
never going to get there  if something new is needed the
guys are dealing in a place where the  probability of getting
it at that level  is zero
they're just too idealistic and
  so what's what you need is a
sense of  this above
threshold region which starts
the category called what is actually  needed they
don't care whether it's  better and we aren't going to get  perfect
so we have to aim for what is  needed
so this is what we did at  Xerox
PARC so Nicholas gave you a little  history
I'm not going to do that but
  basically Xerox PARC hit the ball out of
  the park maybe
15 times in a period of  about five years
so included not just  the
alto that the GUI object-oriented
  programming the ethernet the whole laser
printer a whole bunch of other things  each one of these things
were trillion  dollar industries and the net
return  from Xerox PARC today has been around
31  or 32 trillion dollars that
was done  over a period of about five years by  about two
dozen of us and if we
of those things it would have been  actually we had luck
we were very lucky  in
our manager you let us do what needed
  to be done but when
you do it 15 times  there's some process involved
there and  part of the process is you have to
  pick that little sweet spot there we  actually
call it the McCready speed  sweet spot McCready
is the guy who did  man-powered flight so he is
one of the  most amazing problem finders
and problem  solvers to the point that he was in
the  20th century the
mechanical engineers of  the world awarded him the
honor of being  considered
to be the mechanical engineer  of the 20th century
if you think about  what things were
done in mechanical  engineering of the 20th century this is  an
almost unimaginable honor but this
  guy deserved it and we
got a lot out of  here's a great guy to to
talk to and  work with and the
neat thing is once you  hit that little
sweet spot you actually  widen
up this area because you've  learned something that
is like the  things that you need to do and in
that  range is usually where almost all of
good stuff is going to happen you're  still not going to get up to perfection
but it doesn't matter because now you've  got this incredibly
new fertile area and
a new way of dealing with this with this  area
okay last slide
so it's not that adults are hopeless
by  incredible
effort for
most of us we can  learn a language starting at
age 40 we  can
learn to play classical music  starting at age 40
most of us don't have  the
time I learned from silent in the  classical
pipe organ starting at age 40  I had been a musician
before on other  instruments
and I had one of those 40's  crises
and I just
hated myself for not  following this
felt need for
learning to  play this music I love myself and
so  finally when I was 40 my thought
well in five years i'm going to be 45  and i can either be an
organist or not  and so I just grounded
out got up two  and a half
hours earlier every day for
  six years and
started getting to
be able  to play these big pieces in a nice nice
  way so it can be done but
it's really  unreasonable for instance
to ask most  teachers to learn
something in the midst  of the incredible busy
same with parents parents are already  busy so
I believe that the sweet spot  for the
problems we've been talking  about is not just education but
it's  actually taking early childhood
education seriously because this is  where you
can introduce new  epistemological frameworks that are
not  like the ones that we're born with you
can't get rid of the ones that we're  born with like you don't want to get rid  of stories
those are neat but you have  to help the kids take
on a framework for  thinking about things that's not story
like that has the character of  scientific
explanations and so forth and  so I'll
just leave you with that thought  that the if we've
discovered the enemy  and he is us from
Pogo then we also  discovered
the solution and that's  teaching
children in a much different  way than we do now
very much should
I go over no you're  perfect on time you had 32
seconds left  Oh Sarek and that's time for one  question
okay how about a good one
or  comment if
you're in Italy you never get  a question you always get whatever
  they're feeling about that day
so if ya  if our mush
is not good enough we built  the web and we can collaborate
but  collaboration doesn't work so how
do we  think together and make it so well yeah
  so the web to be so
there's some history  and if you go down stairs you'll
there's a guy by the name of Douglas  Engelbart you may
have heard of he's  mostly famous for inventing the mouse  which is
the least of his contributions  but
his 1962 proposal
to ARPA who was  his funder
was a basically
said most of  the
important things in the world are  done by adults cooperating
together and  if computers are good for anything
they  should be able to help coordinate
  large-scale things in
the in the human  in human good and so
the big problem  with the web is its what
some of us  old-timers call reinventing
the flat  tire and if
you want to see that you can  just look at the hour
and a half demo  that angle Bart did in 1968
in San  Francisco showing
his system working  back then
and for that for us that was  the embodiment of
one important part of  personal
computing and you'll see things  in there that are not
even done on the  web today so
it's not a question that  the that this is a
quaint old thing from  the past and
  the mistake that
Darwinian processes  optimize they don't
Darwinian  processings find fits to
the environment  that they're in and
the fifth to the  environment is a fit to a pop culture
  which basically developed the web the
internet on the other hand is one of the  greatest pieces of technology
ever  design it was designed by experts and
could not be a larger contrast  between the internet and this
web system  that runs on top
of it so
so the  question of
cooperation is
when once  once you have trouble with a word
it's  always good to ditch it right
so so real  question is
not about can we cooperate  when we're inclined
to do so but is  there any way on the
internet to build  up trust because
trust is the actual  basis of
cooperation it's the basis
of  so when I put groups together
going to i have my current group is  spread out all
over the world but we
  spend a lot of time together early on in
  order to use all the different
kinds of  communication including things that are  quasi
face-to-face like skype
but even  if you have a high res
cisco system you  don't get
eye contact so as well so
way is that negroponte action is one of  the one of the pioneers
of this so he  did a big program that actually
got a  golden police award from
Proxmire but it  was a great program which is called
  transmission of presence so the question
  was what do you have to do to
be able to  talk about this
talk about this argue  about this argue about this would argue
  about this but can you have a marital
  argument over this technology
  and get to the place where at
some point  the key to the thing is whether they
  feel you're sincere just from
the  presents part of it and hardly
anybody  has done this so this is an example what  I think the
modern era to me is working  on easy
problems and mostly doing  inverse vandalism so
if you think of the  real problems it really does have
to do  with not just communicating about things  we're
already more or less an agreement  that's news but communicating
and  collaborating about things where we have  to establish
common ground hardly  anything has been
done and so once again
you know looking into the anthropology  books is the Axelrod book
about the  evolution of collaboration which
is a  very important one there's a recent
one  by graber that is a fantastic i
fantastic graber he's written a number  of books but
when I'm thinking of is  called 5,000 years
of debt because the  idea
of debt goes back as far as we've
  been able to track any kind of society  and
if you think about it that is one of  the greatest ideas of all
time if you  don't game it right
because debt allows  you to
borrow from the future in a  sensible way and
to make various kinds  of contracts about
larger plans and you  could ever do when
you're trying to do  the balance sheets
every day and so the  real question is
how can you take this  incredible slightly invention of money
it's one of the great inventions of all  time if you
don't game it because it's  actually part of the meta system
gaming  meta systems gets people in trouble so
  the gray book if
you're interested GRA  EV er is an american
anthropologist  really
a very thoughtful book there's  conman's
book some of you might have  seen called
fast thinking and slow  thinking Kahneman
by the way was the guy  who first used
measure measurements of  pupil dilation to
indicate in interest  and I would have thought that
have been mentioned this morning because  that's one of the things you'd
gauge is suppose you're trying to do  online learning
we want not just eye
tracking but you need to be able to pick  up psychological
signals that indicate  with the student
is interested still and
maybe change things if the student you  can sense the student
he kinds of things as a teacher would  do face
reading a student so one
ways of looking at it this is great  because hardly
anything has been done in  the last 30 years except
exploiting  Moore's law most of the ideas
we have  today are roughly the ones that the 80  started
with like we're using the same  user interface
we did it Park we're  using the same blah blah blah
blah blah  right using the ethernet the internet
  all of those things so very little of of
import has happened there but it's been  spread widely because
the costs and the
  reliabilities have changed so  drastically
so I think we're
place where it's time to go back to some  of these fundamental
issues in large
  part because of that nuclear weapon in  in the
Cape guys briefcase thank
you  thanks Alan