An Interview with Alan Kay by Martin Wasserman

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not talking to alan kay he is one of  the leading
pioneers in the development  of the modern
computer in the graphic user interface  that
was so familiar with today he's  also the president of
viewpoints  research which
is a company in Los  Angeles nonprofit nonprofit
company in  Los Angeles so Alan we're
talking about  collective intelligence today what
you see as the future of collective  intelligence where
is this going well I  think yeah
anthropologists think that
humans have been on the earth for a  hundred thousand years and
we're social  creatures and so we've had a form
of  collective intelligence throughout this
time and the results have not been very  pretty and
so 400
years ago a better way  of dealing
with magnifying
collective  intelligence called science was invented  and
it had the aspect
of sharing  knowledge which people been doing for a  long time
but it also had something that  people hadn't
thought of before and that  is how to be really
critical about
the  open
ideas that I really become up
didn't science go back thousands of  years no science
science as you
know  when it meant knowledge sian chea means
knowledge and so the gathering of  knowledge and certainly
Aristotle was
  interested in biology and with people  have
been interested in explanations but  generally
speaking you could say that  human beings have been interested
explanations but they've been willing to  be
satisfied with really weak ones over
  the years and the big difference between  the
last 400 years and the time before  that is
that people for the first time  wanted to have strong explanations
they  wanted to have these explanations be
terms of mechanisms of various clients  to explain
well you can explain natural  phenomena chiral
phenomena which  includes us since we're part
of this to  explain systems of all kinds too  Blaine
cause-and-effect relationships so  we won't
have a clear understanding of  the world we live in that's the
basic  idea and by saying it that way I
think  we agree that human beings were 100,000
  years haven't had a clear idea of it  we've made
up stories and we've been  satisfied with those stories
as  explanations and what science wanted to  do
was to come up with something  stronger than a story
even given the  fact that our brains
turn everything  into stories so the idea
is can you  factor what's wrong with the way we  think
into the process and try
and deal  with our errors in various ways and
so  the successful invention of science
  partly involved a social structure
in  which the people
who did the criticism  were usually not the
with the theories so the idea is that  even when
you're trying to be a good  scientist you also like your
own  theories let's say we acquired a huge
amount of knowledge we learned to  explain everything in the world
does  that mean that we would necessarily be  better
off well I think that if you had  cancer
and you went to a person who  understood
cancer and could do something  about it you would feel better off so
  one of the ways of looking at this is  that
there's kind of an interaction  between philosophy and
and  there's
a problem with people being way  too pragmatic often
at the expense of  other things
but generally speaking most  people would like to live
as long as  they can would like to be as happy as  long
as they can I would like to be able  to take care of their children
whole bunch of these things are  facilitated
very strongly not just by  understanding the physical
world but the  social world well you think
it's  necessary to have a coherent worldview a
framework of looking at the world in  which you can fit
everything and it all  makes sense no in fact I don't think
anybody can do that science doesn't take  that view
so science went
through  several stages and there is the 19th
century stage  where they
sort of second stage Newton  and they thought they
were nailing  everything down and then we had the 20th  century
with quantum mechanics and  relativity and people then realized
oh  now we know what's going on science
is a  way of taking views on stuff
that we  can't get to directly and like the  Mariners
in the 15th century who are the  precursors of science
wanting can make  maps that were accurate
rather than ones  that were the way the world was supposed  to
be like the Garden of Eden was on the  medieval
mass but instead of what they  wanted was where maps that were as
accurate as they could be and they  wanted annotations on them as to
where  the errors where and
who had seen this  and if you look at it among
you know a  map for the age of exploration
then the  UC
cyan't the you know the first  scientific writings
in the world done by
  observation and not a coherent
worldview  but a patchwork quilt that's supported  by
observations and so science now  realizes
oh you have to open up to  everything and
you just have to be very  careful about when you claiming
something is good knowledge or not now  when I talk about a
worldview I'm  talking about a set of governing  principles
that I apply in all  situations does
it is it necessary to  have that kind of
worldview where you  perceive the world is you know
somehow  governed according to some set of  principles
that can be defined well I  think that one
of the things you could  do is you could take a stance
about  outlook so for example suppose
suppose  one night you go to a
beautiful  people on the stage beautiful
music  great words you're thrilled beyond  measure
the next night you go to the  very same building even
same people on this stage you also hear  great words first
night you're going to  shakespeare in the second night you're  going to
a political rally and if you're  in the same frame of mind
and both of  those you're in trouble
the what we basically in
the modern  world we're in a situation where we need  to be able to
choose what mode
going to be or what mood were going to  be in when we're dealing with
things are  we going to be in a mood that is full
of  feeling and effect where are we going to  be
a mood in which we're like this and  just letting things through
very very  carefully and
I think that that's a huge
difference in the modern world versus  the
middle age as for example you know  we're talking about intelligence
and one  of the hardest things to study is
human mind yeah very little is known  about it I don't
even think there's a  working definition of normalcy
so is the  process of applying collective
  intelligence could that be applied to  unravel
the workings of the mind because  the world is largely driven by
human  desires I want what I want and
the price I'm willing to pay to get it  and here's the price I'm willing to
make  other people pay to get it yeah well you
  could certainly make a very simplistic  argument
but not a bad one that most
of  the trappings of civilization are
  mechanisms and principles that are  designed
to oppose the genetic structure  that
our brains were shaped with other  anthropologists
have found about 300  universals
across all cultures including  the
desire for revenge and including the  desire for status
and language and  stories and and so
forth and things that  are non universals
our ideas like equal  rights
technology has been changing very  rapidly in
recent years we are becoming  dependent
on this technology at a rate  that some people think
is actually  alarming
Israel have we really thought  through the consequences
is so quickly  becoming dependent on
all of this  technology well I think the you
know  Thoreau said we become
the tools of our  tools and
when he was at when the
  transatlantic cable went in in 1865
was an old  and they asked him what he thought of
it  and he said he was rather afraid that
he  would find out that it European princess
  had just gotten a new hat so
I believe  that nails it and so
this is not new  it's just that most people are not
  thinkers like Thoreau was throw could
  understood that he lived in a construct
  and he lived in a technological age
as  technological in its own way as ours  because
any especially anything that is  posed printing press
could hardly be  more technological as
a set of media  that shaped things the big problem
is  not whether we're dependent on this  technology
but whether we understand it  or not and the thing
that lags is  getting any new idea through the  educational
system so the people who are  not intrinsically interested
in it which  is most people can actually
be exposed  to these ideas anyway