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Computing is Everywhere: Bret Victor and Dynamicland [audio] (postlight.com)
61 points by mpweiher 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments

As much as I love this guy (easily in my top 10), I still can't say I'm able to fully appreciate his work at Dynamicland...

I'll give it another try.

One thing I've never heard anyone ask Bret directly that I've always wondered his answer to how does a world of Dynamiclands avoid further entrenching the privilege of physical co-locality. The reason the Internet is an enabling technology is because it levels the playing field: anyone can access the web, and anyone can theoretically communicate with anyone else on Earth once the planet is fully connected.

For Dyanmicland, it seems to be the opposite, where the world may continue to break up into regions where the best minds may gather in order to collaborate together physically. On the web, a young kid in the country can start working with the best minds in our field by directly contributing to open source software, etc. In a world where physical co-presence is further levered up as a differentiated advantage for activating edges in a network of collaborators, that kid is going to be stifled.

To me, I think it's critical that any kind of physically based dynamic medium have a design which takes into account the trajectory of immersive computing tech (VR/AR/haptics/etc) and have an intent to dissolve the dependency on physical co-presence. I'm sure this has been talked about endlessly internally, and I grok the tension between this and the thesis that using your full body and physical matter in a humane space potentially lets you "think unthinkable thoughts", but I haven't heard it spoken about.

If you're wondering what it is, see https://dynamicland.org/

It's a multi-user interface, using objects on a table, via an overhead projector and camera.

So as much as Bret Victor is a visionary, all his ideas never scaled up to real world requirements. Additionally attempts by other groups to implement his ideas met failure, and have squandered millions of dollars by this point. I really thought he might crack the scaling issue at some point, but instead he has just applied his ideas to something that doesn't need to scale; 'dynamicland'.

Props for thinking out of the box, again, I guess. But a 5000 year art project that combines paper and lights? I guess I'm not seeing the relevance.

Bret doesn’t want to be relevant today; he cares about his work being relevant long after he’s gone[1]:

> > Right now, today, we can't see the thing, at all, that's going to be the most important 100 years from now.

> It certainly won't be software. Today, software is the dominant field of systems engineering. But before that, there were integrated circuits, and before that, discrete transistor circuits, and before that, vacuum tubes, and relays, and mechanical gears of all sorts, and on and on, back to the hand-axes. Vannevar Bush's differential analyzer was a mechanical masterpiece which no longer matters.

> I will not fix your vacuum tubes. I will not invent your Darlington pair. Any concept, technique, or tool that is specific to software engineering is guaranteed to have a short shelf life, at least on any time scale that I personally care about.

> (Which is totally fine if you're into that, but this is my ill-advised personal note, not yours, and I personally care about mattering 100 years from now.)

[1]: http://worrydream.com/MediaForThinkingTheUnthinkable/note.ht...

Bret Victor is a researcher first and foremost, a visionary one at that, but a researcher nevertheless; dynamicland is a work-in-progress. The vision is to build social, collaborative workspaces where dynamic computation is as natural as books, paper, pens, whiteboards; if not more.

If I understand his vision correctly, the paper and projector technology is just transitional, the goal is not the paper and lights you see, the goal is zero barrier-to-entry computation; smart, objects that enable and encourage collaboration and discussions enhanced by the additional insights that a computer the size of a room offers.

What groups are you referring to by the way? Are you thinking of Lighttable and Eve and the like?

I see Bret Victor more as a historian where he finds old ideas and re-introduces them to people who haven’t seen them before. Presumably in the hope that enough about the world has changed that this time the ideas will catch on.

I work with 40 year old ideas that are so advanced that people think it’s futuristic alien tech when they see it. Unfortunately the ideas will never be popular because of problems with culture and fundamental limitations of the median human comprehension.

So I see the achievement here as not one of technology but of creating a culturally isolated and elitist institution.

>> I work with 40 year old ideas that are so advanced that people think it’s futuristic alien tech

Lisp is one such idea implemented. Can you please list the other ideas, very interested to know.

It’s a counter intuitive practical fix to a theoretical solution that is currently considered not to work. Because it’s considered not to work in theory many academics won’t belive it works in practice even after I demonstrate it working.

Once it became a money printer I stopped telling people about it. My plan is to save a bunch of money and build an institution around it to push for influence that way.

> 40 year old ideas that are so advanced that people think it’s futuristic alien tech

Care to elaborate?

> median human comprehension

So we don't understand it well enough, yet?

“I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.” -- Richard Feynman


I prefer the adage; as simple as possible but no simpler.

Some ideas are not easily communicated because the shared language does not provide the right constructs for it. I.e. incommensurable.

In assuming that I’m not the first nor the smartest person to approach a problem, it’s likely that someone else smarter found something useful and wrote it down in terms that I do not understand. So I built a cross domain search engine and used it to find the solutions I was after in other domains of expertise. I was then able to combine several the found solution components into a whole working solution. I used to work in search, so that was something I already knew how to do.

I’m sure we could stop inventing new things and coast for a long time by simply digging up old ideas instead of wastefully reinventing them in new domains. But people like new things... so we’re back to the people problem.

I love when people figure out that the same ideas/theories/concepts/models are replicated in different domains/layers.

Some that come to mind:

- Homotopy Type Theory (HoTT)

- Recursive InterNetwork Architecture (RINA)

Is there any existing search engine that solves the problem you solved with your bespoke one? This has always struck me as an interesting area -- tying together knowledge from disparate domains.

> I work with 40 year old ideas that are so advanced that people think it’s futuristic alien tech when they see it.

Unless you can show me that a curated collection of such ideas exists somewhere, I won't believe that the only impediment is culture and median human comprehension.

I spend a lot of my time looking for such ideas, I found them to be incredibly scarce (unless of course I'm part of the median human comprehension that can't appreciate them).

I'm not the OP, and this isn't quite what you're asking for. You'll have to dig through a lot of horseshit and cracked pottery to find them, but there are gems at Rex Research.


> I see Bret Victor more as a historian where he finds old ideas and re-introduces them to people who haven’t seen them before.

Just yesterday I revisited his Future of Programming talk. Splendid!


If I'm not mistaken, he was involved on the early research into the iPad at Apple and helped develop the UI for that. Doesn't sound like squandered money to me.

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