# The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet (2007)

From Viewpoints Intelligent Archive

thank you for

inviting me to give this talk i wasn't able to

travel to italy this time around

and so we tried to capture the talk as i would

have given it in in rome today

this symposium is about

the evolution of digital media

but i've always been more interested in revolutions and i'd like to

case in this talk that the computer revolution

hasn't happened yet and we've seen some

of the beginnings of it but i'd like to make

the history of printing

and first looking at the printing technology

which happened around 1450

or so using

some ideas that the chinese had done much earlier

but adding to it the

invention of how to make lots

of high quality pieces of type rapidly

and cheaply and so this led to an explosion

of presses across europe

and one of the technical futures for printing

was web printing which

started happening a little over 100 years ago powered

by the industrial revolution the

less expected future is what's

the last 25 years or

where printing via

inexpensive laser printers has moved

into people's homes and reading has

started to move away from using paper at all

all connected by a worldwide

network the publishers

25 years 35 years

ago didn't really understand it and didn't

believe it and now they're they're trying to cope with this

but i would claim that this is not a particularly interesting

future for printing another

looking at what happened to printing is to look at how content

changed so here's a gutenberg bible

big book like

this very heavy looked as

much like a handwritten manuscript as possible

in fact they brought in people who call rubricators

who did the illuminations by hand after

the ex printing was done relatively inexpensively

so they got something that looked like a proper

book to them but

most of the books that have been printed since

then were not like this so the this first

edition of

printing was not like what the future printing

like a printer

in venice my favorite

hero aldous monouchious i

like to think of him as aldo monuccio made

small books he had to invent

more readable fonts to

read things in most

of his books were not about religion but about philosophy

some of them were in greek and

latin but many of them were also in italian

d eldest sent

his sons all over europe to

try to find material to print in these little

books like this that he called the portable library

these books were inexpensive enough so that

they could be lost without it being a

tragedy unless printing started to

spread in a very different way

so that was about 50 years after the

invention of the press about 1500

and 100 years later we start

seeing parts of the real revolution of printing which

is the new ways of thinking and arguing that were

bought brought by the press another one of my heroes

another italian galileo

started looking at the world in a different

way along with kepler and a few others

and science started to get invented

and about 60 years after that

newton

completely revolutionized the way we think about the world

with his principia mathematica which

talked about how

forces masses and

gravity motivated the system

of the world and about a hundred years after

we start seeing governance

changing in a big way for instance here's the constitution

of the united states of america in the late

18th century and so what happened

here was the printing press stayed more or

the same during this period but

the way people started using it and thinking about what it would mean

to be able to present closely

argued reason and

reasonable ways of thinking about the world backed

up by evidence this changed the way we look at

world and one

way to look at this is that if you were born in 10 000

bc with an iq of 500

get very far you might be able

to outwit your fellow cave people

fellow villagers but

iq is not the dominant thing in making progress

humans band together

we have culture we have a way of passing

on solutions for living ingenious

things that we found out about the world we

call that knowledge but we have to ask what kind of knowledge

because this is tempered by the outlook

that we have so for instance

traditional cultures

have an outlook that the world is motivated by

spirits of some kind and the way we deal

with spirits is to pray to them and appease them

engineering

um three four thousand years

bc started bringing up kind of gear-like

chain-like ways of thinking about how cause

ffect articulate and so we have

a kind of a progression of starting with

engineering and the invention of mathematics

greeks and then many

in the 16th century

sort of the first invention of real science by

newton and

in this last century science

has changed and become much more ecological

about it looks at systems rather than

articulating gears and one way to

that if you have a

clock and it doesn't work you can fix it if you have a system

doesn't work you can only negotiate with it

and so these are very very different ways of thinking about

knowledge

and when you have a system you usually the

most interesting relationships are not additive

so if you put a rabbit into australia you

do not get the old australian ecology plus some rabbits

you actually get a completely new ecology

one in this case that was detrimental

to the existing ecology

one of the ways of thinking about changes in systems

is that what we think of as normal

the stuff that we don't notice is qualitatively changed so all of

a sudden we notice it for a while until we get

used to it and many of the most important things

that we think about are ecologies human minds

societies and human media

nd discourse

itself what we're doing right now is a kind

of an ecology and it's driven by

ideas but everything reacts and co-evolves

so that ideas need language to

talk about them rhetoric to express them in various

ways we write things

down in various ways to transmit them to other people

of literature the methods that we use to

deal with the ideas are conditioned

the things that we can learn and

this leads to new ideas and and so forth

one of the most important things is that the notion of language

expanded the greeks did this but galileo

great line he said that the universe

cannot be read until we have learned the language and become

familiar with the characters in which it is written

and he said it is written in mathematical language

and the letters are triangles circles and other geometrical

figures without which means it is humanly impossible

comprehend a single word so what galileo

is talking about here is that the normal

natural language discourse may not be strong enough

or pointed enough to deal with all

of the ideas we have a simple example of that

is just to think of the conventions for making

a modern map of the world there's very little

of natural language there but many many

geometric and graphical conventions

and so when

the computer comes along what we really want to be interested

is what is unusual

about it what what is it doing that is not

just replacing the old media that it's displacing

and this is douglas engelbart in the 60s

the guy who invented the mouse this is a picture

taken last week but it was taken

40 years ago

with the start of the invention of personal

computing and i got interested

in this and thought of doing some of englebart

stuff on a desktop computer

and this is a machine that

i and ed cheadle made in the late

60s and while we're working on this i started getting the

idea about a children's computer

that was the size of a of a notebook and i got this

idea because of work that seymour papert had been

doing with children and for example he found

that if you use the body-centered

young child's view of the world

for thinking about mathematics then you could get

them to do mathematics that they normally wouldn't be able to

do for for many years in the future so for example

we normally think

of a circle as being x squared plus y squared equals

r squared in

analytic geometry but to a child

the circle is making a circle with their body so

they're going a little and turning a little and going a little and turning

little if you make a programming language that uses

that idea like forward five and turn five

and can repeat it over and over again then

you can make this mechanical turtle or in this case a screen

turtle draw a perfect circle

and this is because

this form of mathematics which is only about 150

years old partially invented by

carl gause called differential geometry

is actually in the cognitive space

of the way children can think about the world

so these ideas about personal computing

led to a bunch of us going to the xerox

palo alto research center

35 years ago and starting to invent

various of the technologies that we

use in personal computing today like the

personal computer with bits bitmap screen

and laser printer and the ethernet and so forth

all the while working with children the reason

working with children is because

the printing revolution took about 150 years to really

happen so in the 17th century

not a single person was alive

who had been alive when the printing press

was invented it took normal

humanity regular people

150 years to start

understanding what the printing press was about and this only happened

because children grew up in this technology and gradually

came to understand what it was about now of course

aldus and his friend erasmus

understood this very early

and there were people in the 16th century who understood

this very early but for the large mass of people to

understand it it took much much longer

and so part of the effort here at xerox park was

to try to short circuit this

as quickly as possible because we wanted to see

the printing revolution before all of us died

the last 25 years have commercialized these

inventions so these are all things that were originally

done at xerox park the desktop and laptop

computer ideas the overlapping windows

and icons desktop publishing and wysiwyg

the larger research community

that we're part of and

xerox park together did the internet the laser printer

object-oriented programming and ethernet and so forth so

this is a large payoff

of these ideas done

in the research lab in the 70s but there's

a real problem and that is that the

commercialization of this stuff

left out the most important piece of this

technology which was a computer for

children the computer

for the people who are actually going to bring on the real computer

revolution and so pretty much most of the last

25 years has been just

digitizing old media

so we have digitizations of texts and of pictures

and of movies and of

sound recordings and a few

linkages but pretty much none of

what the computer is really good for has

come into the world of the ordinary computer

user in fact many people think that

what they have today is all a computer can do

and in fact the the opposite is the truth

what the computer is doing today for most people is one percent

of what it's really interested

so a few years ago several of us old

timers got sick of this and decided

to make a computer's children children's

computer happen all by ourselves and this is spearheaded

by my old friend nicholas negripati

and it was based partly on the idea that

a dvd player with a small display

and requires a computer for doing signal

processing can be made to be sold

for about 122 dollars and so we thought

it should be possible to actually make a design that

would be around a hundred dollars that could

be aimed at the

third world initially

and how do you make such a machine well part

of it is to look at where the costs go in the computer that you have

so about half of those costs are sales marketing

profit and distribution so we set up a non-profit

called one laptop per child to do this so

nicholas sells directly to countries

and so we don't have any costs

for sales marketing profit and distribution the countries

do the the distribution

for-profit software like microsoft

and so forth we use open

source software which is free

so there are no costs there

the display on a computer is the next largest

cost item and we invented a new kind of display that's much

much cheaper and the next high cost

item is the hard disk and we use a flash

memory like the ones

that you have in your cameras to cut that down and so

the result here is about 100 dollars

and you turn this into a real

machine you get something that looks like this this

is all the electronics in it not a lot these days

and late last year we started

build our first thousand in

a factory and put some of them into

some of the countries that are going to to buy these machines

so this is about roughly about two years

of work we're part part way into

the the third year

and the machines are full function and they have

a novel network which

automatically links up when any computer is on and it forms

something like the old arpanet that we did in the

60s and if any one of these

machines is within range of an internet

node then all of these machines are connected

to the internet one of the secrets

of the machine is this marvelous display

invented by mary lou jepsen the chief technology

officer and it has very

very high resolution about 200 pixels

to the inch 1200 by 900 and

works very well in this in sunlight and

also with backlighting

one-seventh the power consumption one-third the

so all of these things together are really the

gating technology that allows a really interesting

100 computer to be done and of

course people will use this machine

to imitate the old technology the

high resolution of the screen allows extremely readable

text so here's a page from a book and here's what it looks like

on the machine and this doesn't do it justice because i'm

showing this slide on a 768

by 1024

format

which is much coarser than the screen

which is actually 900 by 1200 here and

then we're making this into a video which

is making it even more coarse so it's worthwhile looking at the screen

in person

and of course just being able to do that for a hundred dollars

is a revolution of a kind

a small revolution because you can make books

and put books on it at the cost

of about 0.2 euros

200 to 500 books or so

can be put on this machine

for the total cost of a hundred dollars

but

he very near future

years this machine

is going to go from a hundred dollar machine down to a fifty maybe

even a twenty dollar machine and this is because

the new technology of conductive

plastics that have semi-conductive

properties can actually make these

not just flexible machine displays but

can incorporate the computer technology in there as

well in a in a form that is much

to make much more robust

much smaller

pretty much all good things and no bad things

we can expect to see over

the next 10 years or so and this will be another

kind of technological revolution

but if we look at the goals of

making a societal amplifier that's kind of like printing

then if we come down

here and the easiest part is to make this hardware

sounds difficult because nobody has done it before

but it's actually partly because none of the manufacturing

interests have been

interested in it so this is pretty

down here free software

we talked about i'm using

to give this talk the actual software that will be

on the 100 laptop so this is a 100

laptop presentation

and um

various of us have been working on content and

pedagogy over the last 35 or 40 years

we know a little bit more about it now than than we used to

and we need to explore this a little bit to

see what kind of thing children might do but

i'll come back to this at the end of the talk

has some new things that children can learn

is that children learn in a social

system that involves mentors of various kinds

and of course a lot of mentors are their peers

who induct them into the what you might call the

popular culture the village culture way of

doing things but parents and teachers are

key and in most parts of the world parents

and teachers don't know a lot about

math and science and so the mentoring problem

is severe in europe

and the united states in japan

and of course it is most severe in the third world

where the average education

of an elementary school teacher is itself

only about sixth grade so this

is a problem that

is a tough one because we can make millions of

100 laptops and distribute them

just in a few months but we couldn't make

a thousand teachers uh in

four or five years so

this gap between the environment

in which learning is done and the

technology that can amplify the learning

is getting larger and larger one of the possible solutions

for this is to make the technology be more

of a teacher i'll talk about that just a little bit

more but right now let's take a look

at a couple of the things that

might be done on this so the first first thing

i'm going to do here is to make

[Music] one of the first things

most children make on this

which is a little car that they can

drive and

so i'm going to paint this car

from the top and

paint it pretty much as a as a

child would do it

putting in a few little

reflections there and most children

to put very powerful large

[Music] wheels on the car

so they wind up making something like this

and so far this is

just a drawing i can move it around

i can make it larger

and smaller i can give it a name i'll call it

but i can also look inside

of it and i can see some

car has so for example

here's a behavior called car forward

what happens if i move the car forward well

it goes forward and what happens if i tell the

car to turn and if i want to do have

the car things do over and over i can just drag these guys out

here and start the

car going and we see we've got now something like seymour pappard's

turtle but with a with a costume

on it and the children can experiment

with steering the car here

by changing the numbers here so what if i

go down to zero

the car goes straight if i go

negative numbers starts turning

but this isn't really like driving

a car what i really want to do is to make make a steering

wheel and so i'm going to

just draw another steering wheel

ike this

and it's exactly the same kind of thing as a car but i'm going to give

slightly different behavior so if i

if i look inside of it let's call it

wheel here as long as i'm here

if i look inside of it

i see it has the very same kind of stuff inside

and this forward and turn

thing called heading if you watch this number

here when i turn the wheel see

that goes positive and negative if you

remember positive and negative numbers in here change the car

uh car's direction and so if

i pick up the name of those numbers coming out of the wheel

and drop it in here then i might be able

to steer the car

by turning the wheel

this is very pleasurable for the children but the children have

also learned what is usually a hard to learn idea

for children which is the idea of a variable

and our experience has been that children learning

a variable this way never forget what it is

and how it how it actually works of course

there are many things that can be done here but

let's take a look at a slightly more serious aspect where

we make a we have a couple of cars here

what we're going to do is make these cars

really small and pretend that they're people

and have them move around in a village and we'll say that

the red one is infected with some sort of disease

and the blue one is not infected

so with just two cars in there we see we have just a couple of

dots here and if i tell them to start moving

you can see the probability that they're going to

touch each other is going to be very very low

so this is a disease that is

not very communicable so

i'm going to stop that now what happens if we have

a thousand

villagers and here's the red guy the one

infected now we can see that they're very

together and so the probability that this red guy is going

to be high

and when he touches the blue guy will make him red also

let him be infected also so let's see what that looks like

so it happens very quickly and here's

the all of the ones getting infected and

if this is a deadly disease then they've all died

here happens very very quickly

and we can do this very easily on the computer because

the computer can make things very

very quickly and inexpensively so let's

try this with 500

the probability is of infection is a little bit lower

but we can see as soon as a few get infected

the disease here is very efficient and

all wind up dying

so what if we go to let's say 80.

so now it's quite sparse

hardly anything is happening

but

in fact

because this disease is

contagious and has no cure

eventually they all

contract the disease and they all die so

ne of the problems in the world today is that we have

some diseases that are like this last one

which take a long time to even be noticed

so this first one i showed is like typhoid

happens very rapidly it's very dramatic

people start doing something about it but this last

disease is like aids aids takes

about five years to incubate

and so if you know that diseases

contagious deadly and incurable

are always going to wind up

doing this then you might take

uh action much

much earlier even when it doesn't seem like

is going wrong if you don't understand this about diseases

then you might use your common sense

down here and say oh nothing is happening

therefore we're not in danger let's just ignore it

now the sad thing is is that

in the underdeveloped parts of the world about 100 million

people are now infected with aids precisely

because the common sense reasoning

was not strong enough to deal

of of threat

whereas a child can very

easily sit down and experiment with a

little script experiment with

contagion and quickly

understand in a visceral way

when

something is detected that is deadly

even if it takes a long time that something should

right away and by the way

the the other little known fact in most parts of

the world is that the largest factor

in dealing with infectious diseases is actually

sanitation it's you know

we have wonder drugs and and so forth and

eventually these are likely to

be stronger than sanitation but right now the strongest thing that we

have is sanitation the understanding

ability to imagine very very tiny

organisms that are trying to eat us

all of these things that are very difficult to think about

can lead to actions in

the large that will save hundreds of millions

o another interesting area

is this form of thinking that's called mathematics

and it's generally thought

that children can't do this very well and so we teach them

simple arithmetic and

we wait until high school to try and teach the mathematics and this doesn't

work very well the truth is the children can actually

learn mathematics relatively

easily if you put it into their context

and one of the places in the world that's most

famous for doing this with young children are

the fabulous kindergartens at reggio emilia

which i've been to a number of times and they are truly

inspiring out of kindergarten in

the united states first grade we

found a marvelous teacher julia nishijima

who was showing her

children how to do real math also so

in this case the idea is you take a single

tile of some kind like a square or a

triangle or a trapezoid or a diamond

and make progressively the next larger

sizes of that particular shape

you can see trapezoids here a little bit

challenging but the children do this

individually and then

one of the things that she did was to after the children had done

this constructive exercise she would get them to

try and look at it in a reflective way

thinking about it much slower or less action

and try and write down something about what they've done

so in this case

lauren here noticed that the first one took

one and the next one took three additional ones

the next one took five additional ones the

next one took seven additional ones and the total

was one the total was four total

was nine and quickly she saw oh these are just

the odd numbers and the

total numbers are look like the square numbers you can see she wasn't

oo sure about 6 times 6 here

but she discovered two progressions

here that have great interest beyond just

growth laws these two progressions are sometimes

called first and second order differential equations

in this case they're discrete the

uh constant uh that

drives this one is two so there's a two

between each one of these and then if you add

the the two of these to this you get

and if you add four and five you

get nine you add nine and seven you get sixteen and so forth and

so this is a generative scheme for growth but it

also happens to obtain in much

elementary physics of the kind that newton

invented and

we can for instance look at this

terms of making our toy

car here move across the screen okay so

one of the one of the things that we can do here is to

think about using these progressions for a

ride wide variety of phenomena like

speed and motion so here we're going to set

the car's speed to 30 each time

and we're going to change

the car's position on the screen each time

further to the right by

that car's speed so let's see what happens we'll drop a little

dot here and we see

that these dots are evenly spaced 30 apart

and the car is going across the speed at a uniform

rate

so if we make the

car's speed 50 here

the car goes faster but still at a uniform

rate now

what if we instead of making

the car's speed constant we will actually

reset it

and get the car's speed to increase

by 20 each time and go across

o this

is what the kids were measuring with

their little little blocks except the cars

the speed of the increase in size

was two and you get this

growth law of the speed increasing

constant amount and the distance increasing by an

exponential amount and of course

for races

what we want to do is to do something more

like use a random speed so if i

go in here and pick up a random

tile here and say make something

like 50 and

now the car's speed will be

different amounts we can see the car

going jerkily forward and so forth so this is a way of modeling

uh speed and

acceleration in a way that children can understand

now let's visit another

favorite italian here galileo

who is very interested in speed and acceleration

and particularly about falling objects and

let's listen to this classroom of 11

about how fast or how

slowly objects of different weights

might might go so i'll play this little movie

and the objects that you think will fall to the earth

of time

they think the heavier one is going to fall faster

both hands oh do not

how do you determine this

o we decided let's

drop them off build them

at the school and they'll use

of course the stopwatches don't

work very well when did he actually drop it

[Music] i think we should

do the shot put and the sponge ball

because they're two totally different weights

and if you drop them at the same time

maybe they'll drop at the same speed drop both of them

together which is exactly what galileo did

we get a direct

way of looking at this so important thing to think about

is that aristotle didn't think to do this

and st thomas aquinas didn't think to do this because he believed

in aristotle and galileo

is perhaps and we know that probably

aristotle didn't ask a child and st thomas aquinas

didn't ask a child galileo might have been the first

adult in thousands of years to be able to

still think like a child we found that

in every classroom of 30 children there's usually one child

who will think that you should just drop the

see what happens

and so we get this

qualitative result that

things are falling somehow

the same way regardless of their weight well

actually we can go further than that we can

take a movie of how

things fall and

but how can we understand it so one of the things we can do is single

movie but still pretty difficult

in this system the movies

are actually made out of

the same stuff that the children manipulate and so

we can pull the frames

out and we can even stack

the frames up and when the children see this stacked

pattern like this they immediately say accelerations

and so what kind of

acceleration and what they do is

they measure from the bottom of the ball here to

the bottom of where the ball has gotten to

about five frames later and

when they measure from the bottom of

this ball to the bottom

of where the ball has gotten to five frames later they see that this

a bigger than that one of course that's what we see here

so some acceleration is taking place

and so if we measure again

here and measure again

we can compare these by

stacking them up let's see if

enough if i stack

it up here

like this

and we see that this little patch here

is the amount more that the ball

traveled the next time and the patch here is the amount

more that traveled from here and the patch here is the amount

more and so this is the acceleration

of the ball and looks pretty constant that's

what the children were playing around with their cars so they very

quickly write a program

that's just like the one that they did for the car where the

they make a simulated ball here and the ball speed

increases by some constant amount and we

change the vertical position by the ball speed and

so if we started going like that it

seems to fall but how can we

determine that

the what we've got here is

an accurate model of what was happening in the physical world

and here's how tyrone decided to do it

and to make sure that i was doing

it just right i got a magnifier

which would help me

figure out if the size was just right

after i'd done that i would

go and click on the little basic category

button and then a little

menu would pop up and one of the categories

would be geometry so i click on that

and here it has many things that

have to do with the size and shape

of the rectangle so

i would see what the height is i kept

going along the process until i had them all

height i subtracted the smaller

from the big one to see if there was a

kind of pattern anywhere that

could help me and my best worked

so in order to show that it was working i decided

to leave a dot copy so that it would show

that the ball was going at the exact right speed and acceleration

so we can see that

tyrone decided to just leave dots

like he had with the car and that the dots lined up

with the actual physical phenomena and that

is a way of showing that this is was an accurate

way of modeling

the constant acceleration of gravity

the the

xponential increase

in the distance covered another way to

do this is to just run the simulated

ball against the movie so we can see here

that they're tracking along very well

and that's another way of verifying that the

mathematical model here is

actually uh in

accord with uh nature and

of course there's a nice little payoff once

you've done that once you've made a model of gravity you can

apply it to anything so why not make a spaceship

trying to land on the moon and if we start

it going and don't do anything then this spaceship will just

crash and

if we put a motor if we think of

gravity as a velocity eater a motor

is a velocity producer

so that's a little one line thing that connects up the

the joystick

here so i'll start this off and

turn on the rocket motor here

and the effects

of showing the flame here is this little script

and the crash if you're going too fast is this little script

this is a game that people used to pay money for called lunar

lander but it's within in the the range

of an 11 year old or a 12 year old

this is so the computer allows

to experience the thing that

mathematicians and scientists

know about math and science and that is it's fun

the the reason we do it is that it's fun

it's illuminating it's exciting it's

art and it's fun

and i don't believe it's possible to learn math and science without

being introduced to the fun

the intrinsic reasons for doing this stuff

and so we see that the computer has something very very special

that books don't have

because computer in a sense is a book that can read

itself it's a book that can go

from claims in language

to being able to carry out these claims in simulations

this gives us a different way of both learning

about what an epidemic is but also arguing about what an

epidemic is learning about what

physical dynamics are arguing about what

physical dynamics are and it's a way of

doing this for children at a much earlier age

than has ever been possible before

and now on the 100 laptop it can be done

really inexpensively and be sent around

world so to

finish up here i just want

to the cautionary part of this is that

just like the potential for democracy

was in the printing press in 1450

but it took 200 years

before people were even strongly writing essays

about it and it took until the 18th century until

it really started happening the potential

for science

was in the printing press in 1450

but it took again

until the 17th century before

people a few people started looking at the world

in a different way started writing about it got a few more people looking

at the world in a different way

so the big revolutions

are a bit like epidemics

there are ecological phenomena and they take

a long long time if the revolution is going to be a big one

most people don't notice the revolution happening

at all and certainly with computing most

don't notice the revolution

at all and it could take

another 50 years unless we can do

something about the mentoring systems so i

urge all people who are interested in this problem

to think about mentoring think

about ways of changing

the dynamics of mentoring in our society

both through humans on the internet

better attention to teacher training but also

to thinking about how the computer might be a

better teacher than it is today thank you very much and thanks