I just returned from a trip - accompanied by renowned UCSD tech artist Sheldon Brown - to visit some top people and companies in the Bay Area, offering and swapping cool ideas. We’re now back home with our families. But it was a fun road trip.
First stop, we spent a day with Will Wright (master of "the Sims") and Kim his impressive partner/colleague, discussing, among other things, our Exorarium Project and how it might relate to their exciting to game Spore. (It's fantastic. Get ready for a quantum leap in gaming.)
A relevant aside: “Games get serious: If you think video games are child's play, meet the growing community of scientists, policy makers, and game developers who beg to differ.” Our exorarium offers the educational framing that other games need.
We also visited the Long Now Foundation and were shown (by my “ArchiTechs” co-star Zander Rose) pieces of the epochal Clock of the Long Now, slowly taking shape -- a project of amazing beauty and artistic uselessness... and also toured the wonderful Computer Museum in Mountain View (guided by curator Chris Garcia). A true temple of our renaissance. See both of these Bay Area shrines... on the same day, if you can. What fun.
Biggest stop was to give a company-wide Tech Talk for Google.
First off, Google is every bit as impressive and exciting as you've heard. A wonderful campus where pampered employees (associates) work hard at innovating a new era, between lavish free meals in a dozen terrific onsite restaurants. Scooters and toys and juice bars everywhere. The nineties still live!
We met with my friend Larry Brilliant, head of Google.org, the philanthropy wing of the enterprise, and his senior advisor Gregory Miller. They have fascinating plans to explore new horizons and break paradigms in world-changing investment. (See Larry talk about Bird Flu and Pandemics; learn and be scared!)
Also spent time with my putative cousin, Sergey Brin. No, I won't describe that encounter in any detail, though some parts were hilarious and the whole thing was great fun. I came away encouraged and optimistic. As long as we generate and invest in guys like this, the Enlightenment is still in business.
Together Sheldon & I presented “Third Millennium Problem Solving: Visualization as A Core Element of Problem Solving.” A video/podcast is up. But be warned. I come across as altogether too bashful and shy. (Note: I did the lion’s share of presenting at Google, and Sheldon presented more to Will Wright, for reasons that will be obvious.)
Key point from the talk: ever since the 1400s, each century in the West has been shaken almost to the core by new technologies that transformed three things - vision, memory and attention - providing human beings with augmented powers that then triggered crises of confidence.
For example, the first wave of transformation began when printing presses, glass lenses and perspective dramatically expanded what we could know, see and perceive. Later prosthetics like mass education, libraries, telecommunications and databases all took this process farther, expanding our natural gifts of vision, memory and attention by orders of magnitude, until today people are used to seeing, knowing, and perceiving vastly more than their ancestors might have imagined.
Or desired! With every new ratchet of progress, fearful voices called for a halt. Distrusting the ability of the masses to cope. Calling it hubris and folly for mankind to pick up powers that had been reserved to gods.
Fortunately, we lucked out, on each of those earlier occasions, because the masses refused to be cowed. Instead (amid ruction and violence and chaos) we in the West gradually-but-relentlessly chose individual empowerment.
--A trend toward dispersal of authority.
--Democratization of vision, memory and attention.
You know the theme, because I rant it endlessly.
We are the unlikely products of a series of improbably good choices. Choices that fostered all of the emergent properties of markets and science and democracy and such, allowing us to experiment (at long last) with a system other than dreary/predictable feudalism.
Moreover, it is the job of this generation to keep faith with the experiment.
A side question: If the powers of God are attainable technologically - deus ex machina - then might that have been intended, all along? Perhaps with a thought that we’ll have work to do? Maybe helping to finish the labor of Creation? A theological point that stands in diametric opposition to The Book of Revelations But more on that another time.
In any event, the story of the last 600 years can be distilled to a basic lesson.
Problems that are provoked by new powers of perception can never be solved by cowardice.
Under conditions of crisis, one option stands clear.
Our best and realistic hope tends to be... us.
Next: the Google talk veers into practical matters. What “Tools of Discourse” are desperately missing from the internet?