This morning I called up a doctor that was highly recommended. The nice lady who answered the phone said that I couldn’t get an appointment because the doctor I was asking for was leaving the practice.
In fact, today is his very last day. They are not at liberty to give me any forwarding information, she needlessly added.
I wouldn’t think anything of this except for the fact that about two months ago I called up a different doctor, in a different city, to make an appointment, and a nice lady answered and said that he was leaving the practice.
In fact, the that day I called was his very last day. They could not give me any forwarding information, she needlessly added.
If this happens a third time, I am going to be officially spooked.
I have been writing NSF proposals at NYU for many many years. And always before, there was a mysterious process at the end where we convert our document to Microsoft Word.
Then we hand it over to the powers that be, who turn that Word file into a PDF, and then upload it to a government website, which has lots of rules for formatting. It generally takes days of back and forth, tweaking the document each time, before the website says we have uploaded a valid proposal.
This year we have a new administrative person. She pointed me to the government webpage, and let me try my hand at uploading it myself. So I saved my Google Doc file as a PDF, and uploaded the result.
It all worked perfectly the very first time, to general amazement. Sometimes the simplest thing is the best thing.
I am struck by how much our world consists of instruments. Not just, our cars, phones, our computers, but many things as well. Our governments. Our bodies.
We pretty much organize our reality around the use of instruments. The muscles and tendons and blood that run throughout my body are all part of a well-tuned instrument that does something remarkably well.
The word “instrument” captures it better than the word “machine”. A machine is something that gets a job done. An instrument is something you explicitly use for a purpose. Which means it offers you an interface.
A house doesn’t just have plumbing and electricity and heating. It also has faucets and doors and chairs and tables and light switches. You operate it for a purpose, and it is made for you to do so.
Once you start to see things as instruments, you start to understand them better. What is the difference between a well-written research paper or proposal or movie or short story and a bad one? The former is a good instrument, and the latter is a bad one.
As a homework assignment I asked my students to describe their vision for the VR/XR future. I told them to stick with possible realities (so no time travel or matter transducers or transporter beams).
The results were quite varied, and in some cases very thoughtful and original. But what struck me was that the students who described a bright utopian future and the students who warned of a dark dystopia to come were describing very similar things.
The features of these possible futures — virtual travel, direct brain interfaces, ubiquitous AR — were quite similar. Yet some students saw these things as means to new opportunities for creativity and self-expression, whereas others saw them as harbingers of inevitable societal decay.
Maybe all of them are right.
Let’s take a long view on generative AI. When we have fully mastered how to use generative AI for self-expression, we will be able to create all sorts of creatures, objects, movies and simulated worlds just by talking and gesturing.
And we will do these things in the course of our casual conversations with one another.
The future won’t be “AI is replacing us.” Rather, it will be us having new powers of real-time creation that we will all come to take for granted.
And that isn’t so bad, is it?
I learned today that Gordon Moore passed away this past Friday. He was 94.
There are not many people who are true visionaries. In addition to all his many other accomplishments, the brilliant insight of Moore’s Law was itself one of the great achievements of computer science.
There are people who say that Moore’s Law will soon be coming to an end. But I don’t believe it.
Human ingenuity is an amazing and under-appreciated resource. As long as there are more elements left in the periodic table, somebody will find a way to use them to make computers faster and more powerful.
A group of us are working on a very large proposal together. We have been working on it for quite a while, and now the deadline is approaching.
Everybody has been putting a lot of effort into it over these last months. But now that we are in the final week, it is amazing how much more focus everyone has. I am reminded of my favorite quote of Samuel Johnson:
Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’
This week I made of little example of 2D computer graphics built with Croquet, which makes it easy to create multi-player experiences. Some of my colleagues at NYU have played with it together, and it was fascinating to watch, in real time, their evolving “group mind”.
The thing I wrote is extremely simple — it’s not even a game. It’s just a toy that lets people move colored boxes around together. But it’s a start.
You can play with it here.
One of the most maddening moments in software development is when something almost works. That is, it works about 95% of the time, but somewhere in there is a little gotcha.
It’s one thing if everything just breaks down and falls apart. At least then you know where you stand.
But when there is just one nagging little bug, you really have no idea. You might find it in the next five minutes, or it might end up lurking in there for years — or maybe forever.
Maybe it’s a metaphor.
I have started working with the wonderful Croquet software library. It lets me easily write a computer program that supports lots of people playing simultaneously in the same sandbox (things like multi-player games), without all of the fidgety extra programming that you usually need to do to support that.
I am having loads and loads of fun with it, and in my head I think of it as my shiny new toy, just like the toys I used to get when I was five years old. And that makes me very happy.