Alan Kay at STRAP 2015 - Our Most Important Revolution part (1/2)

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you've all heard the phrase the best  way
to predict the future is to invent  it
you perhaps this one
as well people  who are serious about software should
  make their own hardware or
perspective  or context
is worth 80 IQ points
these  are a few insights from our next speaker  a
pioneer of computing Professor
Alan  Kay can we have a line on the VC
Alan you know I read about this Alan  once said
in an interview that he had  the fortune or rather
the misfortune to  learn how to read fluently
when he was  three years old so
by the time he was in  first grade yet read 150 books and
he  knew the teachers were lying
he's  originally from Springfield
in  Massachusetts he attended the university
  of colorado at boulder he earned a  bachelor's
degree in mathematics and  molecular biology
he went to graduate  school at the University
of Utah in the  College of Engineering
earned his  masters and a PhD there and he began
to  work on graphical programs such
as  sketch pad in 1970
he joined Xerox  Corporation at the
famed palo alto  research center he
was developing  prototypes for network workstation using
small talk in those days you can imagine  1970 these
inventions were later  commercialized by Apple
in their max he  is one of the
fathers of the idea of  object-oriented
programming he conceived  the dynabook
I'm sure you've read about  it a concept which essentially
is the  basis of
tablets of e-books perhaps even  mobile
devices essentially I think he  has spawned
an industry that's worth  trillions of dollars today and
Alan  believes the computer
revolution has  still not happened  he
worked at Apple at Disney and at HP
  but in 2001 he founded viewpoints
Research Institute it's a non-profit  organization dedicated to
children to  learning and advanced software
  development he's by
professional jazz musician and a  theatrical
designer he's been elected a  fellow of the American Academy
of Arts  and Sciences the National Academy
Engineering and the Royal School of Arts  royal
society of arts ladies and  gentlemen he's joining
us live via video  from Los Angeles please help me
welcoming the very very distinguished  professor
how to
know what do you thank you
very  much
one thing I should
just mention is  that the lag
to India
and back again i'm  watching this on the
on the screen here  is about three and a
half seconds and it  takes a little bit longer than
that for  the visual content to get
the air and of  course it takes another second and
half or two seconds for me to see that  it's gotten there
so i'll try not to get  out of sync
during this talk
about  revolutions which vishal
asked me to put  together and
it's in the form of a  series
of ideas many of which you're
  already familiar with and so
I think for  many of you some of
this will be  revisiting some ideas about
hat you've already thought about and  perhaps there are
a few things in this  talk that are
also new to
you so just to  start
an idea that goes back to  the 19th century
almost as a joke about
  human thinking and learning but
in the  21st century it's actually
a pretty good  metaphor and that is the idea that
random features
on the ground
may  channel a little water from a rainstorm
  in one place
and not another and that  channel itself
is an amplifier for  gathering more water
and so quite  randomly we get an erosion
gully looks
  kind of like this and it
can get a much  deeper and
we tend to learn
things that  are right things
or  familiar with and so
the things that  we've experienced at an early age
we  experiences reality
but it's actually
  kinda random kind of depends
on where we  were born what
kinds of schools we went
  to where we were and
we build up this  structure
that can be beautiful
but it's  also kind of a rough so
here's the Grand  Canyon and when
you're in it down here  you can't
see anything else except this  beautiful
pinkish rock you're in a an
  entire world and the
walls are so high  it's hard to even think about
climbing  out if you were to be born
down here the  idea
of climbing out would not probably  occur to too many
people it's just  reality
and that's the way we go
about  the world this is why
revolutions are  called revolutions
they're simply  climbing out of these ruts
that we're in  but since we don't know we're
in ruts we  really think to climb out of
them and  here's a way of
looking at that I'm  taking this pink
grand canyon wall and  spreading
it out to it so it's an entire
  world of pinkish thoughts and
an ant  crawling
around in this world doesn't
  even know it's pink because it's never
  seen any other color and it can explore  around
can pick different directions can
encounter an obstacle we can get around  the obstacle
can do all of the things  that we
associate with thought
and yet  they're all pink
and we don't even don't  even know it but
every once in a while  perhaps were in the
shower out running  relaxing we
get a little blue thought  but
all went to school
we live in the  society and so
these little blue  thoughts just get rapped out
and but
  every once in a while when we're really  relaxed
nobody's around we might
get  creeped out
something that is really an
  outlaw thought it's
completely out of  the plane of the
world that we didn't  even realize was a plane and
wrong with  that escape
we are in
a different  context whole
different set of  possibilities and ways
of thinking about  things and much of human
progress has  been
by these escapes from
the mental  belief
systems that we may stay
thousands of years and then suddenly  somebody has
it as an idea and all of a  sudden we
can see things very  differently and there
are three ideas  here
for people who like revolutions one  is
if think is reality then how
sane  will people think glueless
so the trick  in having these blue thoughts
is to  avoid being burned at the stake
you're going against things people  really believe
in second idea is
if the  idea is really knew
then it requires  almost as much creativity
as the  original invention
so this puts an  enormous strain on
education and  education
is usually much more  comfortable and teaching the pink
stuff  it
doesn't even like to talk about the  blue stuff and
then the third idea is  that this
blue plane is a wonderful  thing but it's also a gully
and in fact  this blue idea
  might not be a very good idea after
all  people have weird ideas
all the time and  if you think about it most
ideas are
  going to be mediocre down to bad
as  having a really good idea
is very rare  even for people to have lots of
ideas so
  revolutions require some
sort of escape  from reality they
require other people  to learn about this
escape the escape
  has to be vetted
or else you might have  millions
of people following a really  bad idea
and we have to set up  conditions in
order to escape from this  new idea when
the time comes instead
of  treating it as reality again
so here's  an idea that
wanted me to put in  and one of my favorites which
is to  imagine somebody
as intelligent or maybe  twice
as intelligent as Leonardo DaVinci  but
born 10,000 years ago
suppose you  were have twice
the IQ of Leonarda  mentioned you're born 10,000
years ago  how far would you get
the answer is not  too far because IQ
is the weakest thing  we bring debate we
just aren't that  smart took
us hundreds of thousands of  years of even
invent writing and since
  we speak it would seem natural to
up with something where we could write  write down
what we speak but it wasn't  natural at all
somebody who's not  nearly as smart as a
da Vinci  was Henry Ford in the United States who  made
millions and millions of  inexpensive automobiles
about a hundred  years ago
Leonardo could not invent a  single
engine  his vehicles and Henry poor
could make  millions of automobiles that people  could afford
what was the difference  well it wasn't the Ford
was smart Ford  was born into
the century that allowed  this to happen but
he was able to hook  into knowledge which
in many many cases  Trump's
raw I cute but
if you can buy  knowledge at IQ you have something  really
powerful and why did was
Henry  Ford able to be boring into a better  century
for on a lot of vehicles
and the  answer is because of
this man Isaac  Newton
and what Newton did was to
change  the context he
took us out of the gully  that we're
in up through the middle ages  and
started looking at the world in
completely different way of course he  wasn't the first person to
look at the  world that way but
he made the biggest  lead of anyone
and so he's the good  symbol for
this idea about context and
  escaping the gully and so
we have the  saying that was in
the introduction that  context is worth AED IQ
points another  way of looking at it is if you pick
the  right dolly it's worth the ad IQ
and if you picked the wrong golly it's  worth minus eighty
IQ points because
just getting out of one value doesn't  automatically
guarantee you're going to  get into a good one at the
other end so  let's take a look
at a couple of  revolutions
writing little over five
  thousand years ago and writing
did one
  thing that we understand
very very well  which is a transcends
time and space it  can travel
around the world it can  travel in
time but the thing we really  think
about writing is what's most  important
about it  is that if we become
a reader and a  writer we actually
become a different  kind of thinker than a thinker
in a  normal society so
writing is not just an  extension of what we
do orderly in an  amplification of
what we do orderly in  action changes us when
we learn how to  do it and this is what one
thoughts we want to carry through the  rest of this talk that
whenever we go  into a
new gully a new more powerful  gully we're
not just extend any things  that we already thought about
but we're  actually by learning
these new things  we're actually creating a different  version
of us so
handwritten books may
  big changes you could they're
probably  the simplest correlation with what
we  call civilization but
they stagnated
a way because they were too hard to  produce so this is a
library in the  Middle Ages in
holland which has a few  hundred books
you can see that those  books are chained
to the wall because  many of these books in today's
dollars  are worth about a million dollars
the  sum
of these books took almost 10 years  for
a copy to be made and
these books  were not affecting
enough people this is  a town library in
in Holland but a  few
hundred books and a few one
percent  or so people reading wasn't
enough to  make
a really big leap and
so of course  we have the printing press
but many of  you will
know that the big invention of  the printing press wasn't
the printing  press because they existed
in Europe for  several hundred years
beforehand and
  wasn't even movable type
  because the Chinese had
movable-type a  thousand years earlier so
these are all  known about that the great
invention of  the printing press was how
type was made  and I
a lot of time so I
brought some  along here
can see because this
is  one of it one of the great
changes in  Western
society was to be able to
make  type cheaply enough
to have presses  everywhere and what was the invention
  well good bird was a goldsmith and the
  way you make coins out of soft metals
  like gold is you don't mold them but you  strike
them into a steel
died and the  striking
them forces the metal to
expand  and take on the impression of the die
  and at some point a good
bird got the  idea that wow
if I made a steel punch
ere with
the reverse with an H on it I  could punch
it with a hammer into a
  softer metal like grass and that
would  make a mold that I could then
pour led  into and I could make thousands
of  pieces of type each day and
so the  printing press in your visit if
you like  parallels this is a parallel
to the  integrated circuit
we had computers  before we have the integrated circuit
but we didn't have computers for  everyone and the
kind of computing that  we have today until the integrated
  circuit solve the problem of how to make
  zillions and zillions of gates
same idea  here and
so people who made type could
  have their type making
stuff in their  backpack and they went all over Europe
  and only 20 years after the invention
the printing press there are more than  20,000
printing facilities in Europe
  each with their own type so
technological invention of the printing  press
a revolution and being
able to  spread the means of spreading
ideas what
  we get from the printing press
is a  child sitting underneath the tree  reading
a book all to herself
because  the real invention of the printing press  the
real revolution of it is there
now  enough books so
a single person can  learn many different
ideas from  different sources by themselves without
  being socially coerced
and they can come  up with ideas
and points of view of  their own and
the sense of identity on  their own
and that changed everything  for
what happened in the next few  hundred years you
can think of this  great invention of the printing press
  was it started making us aware that we  were in
a go so once you start  encountering different
ideas about  things that you thought
were fixed it  starts getting you thinking
about this  is wherever I am
isn't really reality  it's just
a set of beliefs that I have  at this moment
so silence came along
  with this and this
is a pocket globe  from
the end of the 18th
century and  people reason I show this
actually I  have one of these I love them
it's hard  to
see because it's old and dirty it's
everal hundred years old here's a  modern copy of
it or
this up well this is what people did in  the coffee houses
in Europe during this
  time they look they
could take them out and talk with  each other
about what the earth look like from  space and
what was interesting is
200  years later when we got out there and  look back
at the earth there are no  surprises
look just the way it
looked  200 years earlier
and one of the ways of
  thinking about this is that what
  happened 200 years earlier was the
  process of science which is taking
lots  of measurements stitching ideas together
  coming up with a model
understanding how  accurate and inaccurate
the model is and  we get this
nice picture and what we
did  a few years ago was engineering
we built  rockets that could go out there and look  back at
it those Rockets required  science also
so the
idea here is what  science started to do is to
get us to  realize that
the other goalies are all  around us
they're invisible but we can  make things more
visible so science
the best collection of stuff we've come  up with for
helping us identify the  ability that
we're in and how to get out  of it and in
India there is this a
  famous tale
that I learned as a child  about the
six blind men and the elephant  and
one says the
trunk oh it's like a  rope or it's like a spear or it's
like a  wall and so forth
and so several  reactions to this for
example a normal
human reaction is to fight about this  and don't
worry this is not the Indian  Parliament this is Italy
just in case  you were worried
gentlemen there is a distinguished  politician
who at this moment decided
  everybody else was
  completely insane
and that they were the  only one that had a hold
on reality okay  well one
of the ways of solving this is  we can compromise
so we can make an  elephant out of everybody's
point of  view if that is better than fighting
but  we can
do more than compromise we can  actually cooperate
and what science does  is to
cooperate to get us outside
the  gauley and cooperatively put together a  much
more accurate view of the thing we  can't
see for ourselves and so they're a  couple of ideas here one
is we can't  learn to see until
we admit we are blind
so this is a big ones whereas while  saying to
yourself each day because we  think we can see
but in fact compared
to  what we can see today
using scientific  instruments
engineering new
ways of  thinking about things it's a complete
  revolution from the way things where 500  years ago and
then the other idea is
  instead of thinking about science as
  being technical
which it is and thinking  about
it as involving lots of  mathematics which it usually does
implest way to think about science is  it's a collection
of the best ways we  know together
well what's wrong with our  brains
we realize that our brains  were not actually set
up for thinking  clearly then
we can actually start  making progress
so these ideas
at the  same time were used in the United States
  to design the country
actually one
of  the ways of thinking about this at
the  kept the a convention
to come up with  the constitution
for the United States  55 people they
did not agree when they  got
  here they spend six weeks working
on it  they did not agree at the end but
in the  end they came up with
this but
you can  think of as a one-page operating
system  that
was good enough to run a millions  and millions of
not terribly cooperating  processes
for hundreds of years without  a crash
because that's what the  Constitution
is and a couple of  important ideas
first one was that
  according to accounts of this
convention  all 55
decided that the goal
was not to  win or lose
according to what their  point of view was their
goal was to make  real progress during these six
weeks and  so even
though many of them hadn't  changed their
minds at the end they  still were able
to come together to put  something yeah this is kind of like
that  middle elephant
made up with different  parts
and a second idea was I
think a  profound one for anybody today
who's  trying to put together a
large plan a  revolution is
that often revolutions
  will start from ideals
and that's good  they'll
often start from aesthetics  which is
could make something beautiful  make
something important but in fact
the  key to the American Constitution
was  that it had
essentially no laws in it it
was mostly about how to detect errors  and correct them
before the country  could come apart
which it almost did a  couple of times
so this idea about  making a dynamic
system that does
  dynamic error detection and correction  is
something that  not only works really
well in software  the internet is
completely made about it  but also something
to think about for  when we do human revolutions
Ben  Franklin
towards the end made a speech  and
in the speech he said when you  assemble a number of
men to have the  advantage of their
joint wisdom you  negatively assemble
with these men all  of their prejudices their passions
the  errors of opinions their local
interests  and their selfish views
from such an  assembly can
a perfect production be  expected and his speech
was no but
what  we did do is to come up
with something  that is capable of being
improved in
  other words like
all operating systems  constitutions are
gullies and the most  important thing about
them is whether  they can adjust
to the learning curve of  the society so
in America this has not  happened
the people have
been very timid  about
adjusting the Constitution is  every
time an amendment is made it is a  enormous
fight and
perhaps given the the
people we have in our Congress right now  that's a good idea
but if you think  about it as a larger
principle when you  make one
of these things that helps  organize ourselves just like
the  software we wish we were doing is
really  not just about today
but we should be  really making our software so
that it's  easy to modify as conditions
change down  the road most companies
are not willing  to pay for the amount of extra
work  needed to make the future easier
we  know from
the Indian Revolution
the  importance of the Constitution
  here the having constitutions
that are  not terribly long
but spell out the  nature
of the environment we wish to  live in