Went to a virtual talk by Bob Metcalfe, one of the inventors of ethernet. His talk was entitled “Connectivity” and was recollections of stories from his life and about his beliefs about the powers and dangers of connectivity. The person who introduce him, Daniela Rus, shared an anecdote about how in the 90s he was wrong about some prediction and at a conference took a paper printout with the prediction and blended it into a smoothie and drank it! He was a very good and fun speaker to listen to. I love listening to these early pioneers of computing as they had to create the tools that we take for granted today. I think its really absurd actually that I have been born and able to grow up to young adulthood and have all of this happen while modern computer tools were widespread, but not too late that the early pioneers are all dead already. These pioneers, I think, have a different mental model of computers than people like me since they didn’t have the same preconceived notions of what a computer was and what it could do. For me and many others we have grown up in the age of the consumer computer and viewed how we interact with a computer and what we do with it to be relatively static. They’ve gotten faster and can have prettier graphics, but I argue that there has not been any fundamental difference in how computers are used in the past 20 years (and arguably since Doug Englebart’s famous demo). There’s probably good reasons for this plateau, but I think its really getting us mentally stuck in how we think about computers. So, listening to these people can help us understand a bit better how they think about computers and their approaches to brining new things into the world that previously did not exist.

In reading about Daniela Rus I learned about this project of her group’s that is related to an idea I’ve thought about recently: if you had to restart society from scratch (from a technological standpoint), what tools would wou want to accelerate that process? The original motivating question was “how do I make a computer from scratch?”. One thing that seems necessary to have to do this in a reasonable time frame are tools that can make more tools and then do the work themselves - i.e. robots that build robots. This idea of a robot compiler from her group is a step in that direction. I think about this question also because I think there are many places on earth where it would be useful to do: developing countries. I view this as a means of raising the quality of life throughout the world as it makes better quality goods more widely available. There are a lot of hard questions around this that need to be addressed - namely how do you make the creations of this sustainable in the long term and not just able to make a computer. I think some method of creating new process knowledge is at least a good start for this, and ensuring that process knowledge persists.

Daily Listening

A pleasant track from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Really makes me want to play it again for some nostalgic bliss.

Daily Reading

I was reading an interview with an AI pioneer Stephen Grossberg. I think he’s weirdly concerned with status as that seems to be very prevalent so far, especially in talking about his youth. Certainly lacking a lot of modesty! Anyways I learned about him from one of my advisors as he apparently has some thoughts that are interesting in regards to AI that differ from the current state of the art beliefs.