Tags: computing



Friday, November 25th, 2016

Turing Complete User

A superb 2012 essay by Olia Lialin. J.C.R. Licklider, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart, Don Norman, Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Douglas Rushkoff and Cory Doctorow all make an appearance.

There’s a lot to think about here. I’m particular struck by the idea that calling people “users” isn’t necessarily the dehumanising Lakoffian language we think it is; users have power and control. If we stop treating people like users, we may end up infantilising and disempowering them.

But when you read it in a broader context, the denial of the word “user” in favor of “people” becomes dangerous. Being a User is the last reminder that there is, whether visible or not, a computer, a programmed system you use.

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Man-Computer Symbiosis

J. C. R. Licklider’s seminal 1960 paper. I’ve added it to this list of reading material.

The title should, of course, read “Person-Computer Symbiosis.”

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace—Stephen Wolfram Blog

A detailed history of Babbage and Lovelace through the lens of Wolfram’s work today:

Ada seems to have understood with some clarity the traditional view of programming: that we engineer programs to do things we know how to do. But she also notes that in actually putting “the truths and the formulae of analysis” into a form amenable to the engine, “the nature of many subjects in that science are necessarily thrown into new lights, and more profoundly investigated.” In other words—as I often point out—actually programming something inevitably lets one do more exploration of it.

If this piques your interest, I highly recommend the Babbage biography The Cogwheel Brain by Doron Swade.

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Meet Walter Pitts, the Homeless Genius Who Revolutionized Artificial Intelligence

The fascinating story of logic, learning, and the origins of electronic computing. Russell, Shannon, Turing, Wiener, Von Neumann …they’re all in there, woven around the tragic figure of Walter Pitts.

It is a sad and beautiful world.

Thanks to their work, there was a moment in history when neuroscience, psychiatry, computer science, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence were all one thing, following an idea first glimpsed by Leibniz—that man, machine, number, and mind all use information as a universal currency. What appeared on the surface to be very different ingredients of the world—hunks of metal, lumps of gray matter, scratches of ink on a page—were profoundly interchangeable.

Friday, May 15th, 2015

100 words 054

In between publishing the Whole Earth Catalog and spinning up the Long Now Foundation, Stewart Brand wrote an article in Rolling Stone magazine about one of the earliest video games, Spacewar.

Except it isn’t really about Spacewar at all. It’s about the oncoming age of the personal computer.

The article was published in 1972. At the end, there’s an appendix listing some communal places where “one can step in off the street and compute.” One of those places—with 16 terminals available—was run by a certain Bob Kahn.

Together with Vint Cerf he created the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol.

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

100 words 053

When I got back from Bletchley Park yesterday, I immediately started huffduffing more stories about cryptography and code-breaking.

One of the stories I found was an episode of Ockham’s Razor featuring Professor Mark Dodgson. He talks about the organisational structure at Bletchley Park:

The important point was the organization emphasised team-working and open knowledge sharing where it was needed, and demarcation and specialisation where it was most appropriate.

This reminds of another extraordinary place, also displaying remarkable levels of collaboration, that has an unusual lack of traditional hierarchies and structure: CERN.

Bletchley Park produced the computer. CERN produced the web.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

100 words 037

It started when Jessica relayed something that happened when she was on a cultural walking tour of Sofia two weekends ago. The tour guide asked “Does anyone know who invented the computer?”

Alan Turing? Charles Babbage?

The tour guided pointed to a statue and said, “John Atanasoff.”

I had never heard of him. So of course I looked him up. That led me down the most incredible rabbit hole as I uncovered a courtroom drama filled with invalidated patents and mountains of court records.

Why had I never heard about this? It was eclipsed by a bigger legal drama: Watergate.

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

The Queen Of Code

A short documentary on the wonderful Grace Hopper.

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Seeing Like a Network — The Message — Medium

How computers work:

One day, a man name Alan Turing found a magic lamp, and rubbed it. Out popped a genie, and Turing wished for infinite wishes. Then we killed him for being gay, but we still have the wishes.

Then we networked computers together:

The network is ultimately not doing a favor for those in power, even if they think they’ve mastered it for now. It increases their power a bit, it increases the power of individuals immeasurably. We just have to learn to live in the age of networks.

We are all nodes in many networks. This is a beautiful description of how one of those networks operates.

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Girls Imagineer the Future | Curiosity Hub Event

Jacqueline Currie is running Robotics/Bioengineering/Computing workshops for girls (ages 6-16) this Saturday at the University of Brighton.

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Powerful Ideas Need Love Too!

Alan Kay’s written remarks to a Joint Hearing of the Science Committee and the Economic and Educational and Opportunites Committee in October 1995.

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

1995 Vannevar Bush symposium: closing Panel

So Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee walk into a panel…

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

WarGames Magazine Identified By Michael Walden

Now this is what I call research:

Through the use of my knowledge of computer magazines, my sharp eyes, and other technical knowledge, I have overcome the limited amount of information available in the video content of WarGames and with complete certainty identified the exact name and issue number of the magazine read on screen by David L. Lightman in WarGames.

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Kids can’t use computers… and this is why it should worry you - Coding 2 Learn

This is a really well-written and worrying piece that pokes at that oft-cited truism about kids today being “digital natives”:

The parents seem to have some vague concept that spending hours each evening on Facebook and YouTube will impart, by some sort of cybernetic osmosis, a knowledge of PHP, HTML, JavaScript and Haskell.

The causes of this lack of digital literacy can be traced back to school:

We’ve mirrored corporate networks, preventing kids and teachers access to system settings, the command line and requiring admin rights to do almost anything. They’re sitting at a general purpose computer without the ability to do any general purpose computing.

Also, this article has the best “TL;DR” description ever.

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The Future of Programming

A wonderful presentation by time-traveller Bret Viktor.

Friday, July 26th, 2013

NSA: The Decision Problem by George Dyson

A really terrific piece by George Dyson taking a suitably long-zoom look at information warfare and the Entscheidungsproblem, tracing the lineage of PRISM from the Corona project of the Cold War.

What we have now is the crude equivalent of snatching snippets of film from the sky, in 1960, compared to the panopticon that was to come. The United States has established a coordinated system that links suspect individuals (only foreigners, of course, but that definition becomes fuzzy at times) to dangerous ideas, and, if the links and suspicions are strong enough, our drone fleet, deployed ever more widely, is authorized to execute a strike. This is only a primitive first step toward something else. Why kill possibly dangerous individuals (and the inevitable innocent bystanders) when it will soon become technically irresistible to exterminate the dangerous ideas themselves?

The proposed solution? That we abandon secrecy and conduct our information warfare in the open.

Monday, July 8th, 2013

The Hut Where the Internet Began by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic

A wonderful article looking at the influence that Vannevar Bush’s seminal article As We May Think had on the young Douglas Engelbart.

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

A few words on Doug Engelbart

A beautiful eulogy for Doug Engelbart by Bret Viktor, not celebrating the laundry list of his inventions, but celebrating his intent in making the world a better place.

Engelbart had an intent, a goal, a mission. He stated it clearly and in depth. He intended to augment human intellect. He intended to boost collective intelligence and enable knowledge workers to think in powerful new ways, to collectively solve urgent global problems.

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013