List of famous people

I often check the list of famous people and their birthdays on Wikipedia. I have noticed what may be a very disturbing trend.

Gradually, over time, the list of people who are older than me is getting shorter, while the list of people who are younger than me is getting longer.

Clearly something is going on here. Should I be worried?

Hinton Battle

I was devastated to read that Hinton Battle has passed away. I first saw him as Scarecrow in the original production of The Wiz on Broadway.

I had never seen anyone move like that. I have been a fan ever since.

When I heard the sad news today, I immediately went to YouTube to rewatch him in Once More, with Feeling. As always, his performance as the demon Sweets — which raised what was already the greatest episode of Buffy to a whole other level — took my breath away.

I am grateful to have had the privilege to witness such talent and such sheer joy in motion.

What is real

When you are in a movie theater, and you and everyone else is looking at the movie screen, nobody is arguing whether the screen is real. Of course it’s real, because everybody in the theater can see it.

If only one person could see the screen, there could be an argument that it is an hallucination. But if all the people in a room see something, then there is an unspoken consensus that it is real.

We are about to undergo a similar semantic transition as extended reality becomes universally adopted.

If I am the only person wearing a pair of XR glasses, then it could be said that I am experiencing a technology-induced hallucination. And if even only two people out of a crowd can see the same thing, it could still be argued that we are both sharing a common hallucination.

But what if everybody in the room is wearing XR specs and therefore sees and hears the same thing? Then that thing is part of reality, just like the screen in that movie theater.

What is real, in human terms, is whatever we all experience together.

Conspiracy theories

Every once in a while I find out that people I know harbor conspiracy theories. These are often people who otherwise seem rational and sane.

But if you get them on certain topics, it’s like being dropped into the Upside Down from Stranger Things. Evidence, reasoning, cause and effect, Occam’s razor, all of those things fly out the window.

And there is not point trying to have a discussion with people about their conspiracy theories. If you start pointing out simple and obvious facts to them, they might just decide that you too are part of the conspiracy.

I remember being at a scientific conference not long after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. One of the scientists there, an otherwise reasonable seeming person who was respected in his field, tried to convince the rest of us that the entire attack had been engineered by the Bush administration.

I remember thinking that Bush 43 wasn’t clever enough to do such a thing. And beyond that, I pondered the impossibility of everybody in that dysfunctional administration being able to keep something like that a secret.

But I soon realized that there was no point in continuing the discussion. It seemed that this man was not talking about a rational theory, but rather expounding something like a religious belief.

And I learned a long time ago that you don’t try to talk people out of their religious beliefs. No matter how crazy they are.

Three birthdays

It’s delightful that Mozart, Lewis Carroll and Jerome Kern were all born on the same day of the year — January 27.

Imagine if the three of them had been able to collaborate! I wonder whether A.I. will eventually get to the point where we can play around with such “what if” scenarios, and produce a result that is actually good.

Universal translator

In 1966 the original Star Trek series introduced the idea of a universal translator. It was a very clever conceit. Our intrepid heroes could communicate with any alien races they happened to meet, thanks to the handy-dandy little translators built into the com-badges on their Federation uniforms.

But what would be the effect of a universal translator in reality? WOuld it be a good thing or a bad thing?

Right now, if I wanted to spend time in Korea or France, I would need to learn the language in order to truly understand the culture and its people. If I never needed to learn the language, I might simply spend time there in a bubble of ignorance, believing I was learning another culture, but not really ever understanding the people or their values.

So maybe it’s just as well that we don’t have a universal translator. Then again, we might very well find one built into those XR wearable glasses that will eventually end up replacing smartphones.

I hope that leads to an era of greater inter-cultural understanding, but I fear that it might just lead to an era of blissfully unaware inter-cultural ignorance.

Happy birthday M0001

Forty years ago today, the Apple Macintosh went on sale in the U.S., and it was one of those moments that changed everything. People who are old enough to remember the Ridley Scott commercial know that it was one of the rare cases where the hype was justified.

It’s true that the IBM P.C. started the democratization of the computer. Yet it was the Mac which finally positioned the personal computer as a consumer device first and foremost.

In a sense we live in a world that was created on January 24, 1984. There are things we all take for granted about our comfortable relationship to our computer technology that were simply not yet true on January 23, 1984.

So happy 40th birthday model M0001. Because of what you started, many people are now looking forward to seeing whether February 2, 2024 will turn out to be as momentous a day of birth.

The future of design

I wonder what new skills we will develop, as we all start using AI based on General Purpose Transformers. The sorts of magical scenes that we are used to watching in science fiction and fantasy movies will no longer seem magical, as they become everyday skills.

For example, if you and your friends are designing a house, you and your collaborators will soon just be able to talk through what you’d like to see and it will start to show up. Acts of creation and design will simply be woven into your conversation.

You might say “the roof should be pointed and green,” and I might add “the driveway curves this way, and there is a dog running across the lawn,” and these things will appear before us. As we go on in our discussion, we continually refine our design, adjusting, adding details, gradually making things more specific.

The experience will not be that different from how today we might hire a 3D expert to make rendered sketches of our ideas, except that the process will be faster and cheaper, and the results will be more visually realistic.

Another similarity will be that there will be no magic bullet — the act of creation will still be “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you are a bad designer, your A.I. will faithfully deliver to you a highly detailed and impressively rendered bad design.

There will be a shift in the nature of expertise, but not in the need for expertise. Bad designers might find themselves out of a job, but good designers will still get work — even more so than today.

The difference will be that those good designers will be paid for their talent and good judgment, rather than for their time. And that will be a much better deal for the good designer.


Descartes said “I think, therefore I am,”
Which can lead to a tough philosophical jam,
For if thinking precedes our existence, of course
That’s putting Descartes before the horse

Because all of our thinking is done in our brain.
Yet back when he said that, it wasn’t insane
To think of the parts as much less than the whole
If everyone has their own God-given soul.

But then there arose a new view of reality
In direct opposition to just this duality.
God was kicked out, replaced by psychologists
And a new breed of thinkers called phenomenologists

Who made quite a meal out of Descartes’ defeat.
Now the spirit is served only after the meat
And everything’s changed just by flipping the link.
Put simply: “I am, therefore I think.”