This computational research lab is reinventing computer programming
Sep 18, 2019 · 29 min read
Walking into Dynamicland, a computational research lab and communal computer in Oakland, the first thing I notice is the array of projects spread out across several work tables and the kitchen countertop. 3D printed math sculptures, stuffed animals, kids toys disassembled for parts, and a MIDI keyboard connected to a Raspberry Pi. There's enough art supplies to rival any Kindergarten classroom: markers and crayons, glue sticks, silly putty, felt tokens, pipe cleaners. Giant posters line the walls, with titles like "Annotation of the Celera Human Genome Assembly" and "Outline of the Discussion Leading to Maxwell's Equations." Bret Victor, the engineer-designer who runs the lab, loves these information-rich posters because they break us out of the tyranny of our glassy rectangular screens.
走进位于奥克兰的计算研究实验室和公共计算机Dynamicland，我注意到的第一件事是一系列项目分布在几个工作台和厨房台面上。 3D打印的数学雕塑，填充动物，儿童玩具拆解零件，以及连接到Raspberry Pi的MIDI键盘。有足够的艺术用品可以与任何幼儿园教室相媲美：标记和蜡笔，胶棒，腻子，毛毡标记，管道清洁剂。巨型海报排列在墙上，标题如"Celera人类基因组大纲的注释"和"麦克斯韦方程式的讨论大纲"。经营这个实验室的工程师兼设计师Bret Victor喜欢这些信息丰富的海报，因为他们让我们摆脱了玻璃矩形屏幕的暴政。
In one corner of the building, there's a
在建筑的一角，有一个library. The books are centered around STEM but reach well into the arts and humanities. A copy of
。这些书以STEM为中心，但很好地融入了艺术和人文学科。副本 A History of Engineering & Science in the Bell System sits on the coffee table, and on one wall there is a poster labeled "Every Representation of Everything (in progress)," showcasing examples of different musical notation systems, sign languages, mathematical representations, chemistry notations.
坐在咖啡桌上，在一面墙上有一张标有"Everythingation of Everything（进行中）"的海报，展示了不同乐谱系统，手语，数学表示，化学符号的例子。
Dynamicland is a non-profit that resides somewhere between an academic research lab and a Silicon Valley startup, between physical and digital, and between computing's distant past and its future. The researchers here are inventing a new computational medium.
What is a computational medium --- and how is one invented?
Before we get into that, let's look at an ancient medium: The map. Map reading is a complex and uniquely human skill, not at all obvious to a young child. You float out of your body and into the sky, leaving behind the point of view you've been accustomed to all your life. Your imagination turns squiggly blue lines and green shading into creeks, mountains, and forests seen from above. Bringing it all together in your mind's eye, you can picture the surroundings.
Maps are so beautifully matched to our mental faculties. We train our minds around them. They shrink vast topographies to human scale so we can dream and reason about them in ways that were previously impossible --- our street, our planet, distant moons.
地图与我们的智力相得益彰。我们训练他们的思想。它们将巨大的地形缩小到人类规模，因此我们可以用以前不可能的方式来梦想和推理它们 - 我们的街道，我们的星球，遥远的卫星。
It feels so natural, yet maps had to be invented, and the invention of the map transformed civilization. It greatly expanded our cognitive reach, giving us the ability to depict rich geographic information.
And you don't have to be a professional cartographer to draw a map. A kid with a crayon and a napkin can map their neighborhood, complete with secret hideouts, friends' houses, parks, and skate spots. That's the beauty of physical media, as opposed to digital media: You can create it with anything you can find. Draw on a napkin. Draw in the sand with a stick. The medium is open to a wide range of improvisation.
Digital media, however, tend to be more rigid. Commercial apps force us into ways of working with media that are tightly prescribed by a handful of people who design them. For example, Instagram has exactly three brush tools for drawing on photos, and five typefaces. Creative flexibility beyond that is possible but requires a lot more effort.
Every medium has limits. What is at first liberating eventually becomes a prison that constrains our expression and our range of thought. Because every medium has limits, there's always an opportunity to invent new media that will expand our ability to understand the world around us, and to address major problems of civilization.
A lot of what we use today is extended from our analog past: email, digital books, and digital photos are more or less direct carryovers from physical letters, books, and photos. And this tendency has bled into hardware products: We've extended $0.05 pencils and $0.005 paper by creating $200 digital pencils and $1,000 digital tablets. But by carrying forward some of the elegance of pencil and paper into the digital realm, we're also missing entirely new approaches.
That's what Dynamicland has been looking for: New approaches. New media that can only be made using computers.
The invention of a new medium is an iterative chicken-and-egg dilemma; a long-term push and pull between the medium and the work created with it. For the invention of the Smalltalk programming system in the 1970s at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), each 2--4 year research cycle followed the same steps:
新媒体的发明是一种迭代的鸡与蛋的困境;媒介与用它创造的作品之间的长期推动和拉动。对于20世纪70年代在施乐帕洛阿尔托研究中心（PARC）发明的Smalltalk编程系统，每2 - 4年的研究周期遵循相同的步骤：
- Build applications in the language
- Based on that experience, redesign the language
- Build a new system based on the redesign.
Byte Magazine Smalltalk issue, August 1981
The Smalltalk research team was led by computing pioneer Alan Kay. A man of big visions and the technical expertise to back them up, Kay is a natural teacher, charming and full of great stories and anecdotes about innovation. His lifelong work is to create a dynamic medium --- and dynamic literacy --- for children. In the late 1960s, Kay crafted an early prototype of a laptop/tablet computer out of cardboard, decades before it was feasible to produce, calling it "A Personal Computer For Children Of All Ages."
Smalltalk研究团队由计算先驱Alan Kay领导。 Kay是一位有着远见卓识和技术专长的人，他是一位天生的老师，充满了创造性的精彩故事和轶事。他的终身工作是为孩子们创造一种充满活力的媒介 - 和动态的文化。在20世纪60年代后期，凯在纸板上制作了早期的笔记本电脑/平板电脑原型，几十年才开始生产，称其为"适合所有年龄段儿童的个人电脑"。
Over the decades, Kay has migrated between advanced research departments in large companies like Apple and HP, more recently via his own LA-based institute, Viewpoints Research. In his talks, he argues that the conditions for critical long-term research that can really benefit humanity rarely happen inside of corporations because of the market's obsession with quarter-by-quarter financials. To make real progress, research needs to be protected from that.
In 2013, Kay began to partner with Vishal Sikka, the affable tech executive and Mr. Bean doppelgänger, to create a new lab to reinvent computing in the spirit of Xerox PARC. Sikka was committed to Kay's vision, and as the CTO of SAP he had the resources to fund it. The lab was called The Communication Design Group (CDG). Kay hired three principal investigators:
2013年，Kay开始与友好的技术主管Vishal Sikka和Beandubpelgänger先生合作，创建一个以Xerox PARC精神重塑计算的新实验室。 Sikka致力于Kay的愿景，作为SAP的首席技术官，他有资源为其提供资金。该实验室被称为通信设计组（CDG）。凯聘请了三名主要调查员：Dan Ingalls,
，Vi Hart, and
，和Bret Victor, offering them space and time in San Francisco.
For engineer-designer Bret Victor, whose work at Apple influenced the iPad and Apple Watch, the golden era of long-term research at Xerox PARC, Bell Labs, and other institutions in the 1960s and 70s had always seemed locked in the past. It was folklore to be shared among nerds over beer. But when Kay approached Victor and the other researchers to form CDG, it was clear that there was a torch to be carried forward, with each researcher bringing their own perspective into the mix.
对于工程师兼设计师Bret Victor来说，他在Apple的工作影响了iPad和Apple Watch，在Xerox PARC，贝尔实验室和其他机构在20世纪60年代和70年代进行的长期研究的黄金时代似乎总是被锁定在过去。在啤酒的书呆子之间分享是民间传说。但当凯接近维克多和其他研究人员组建CDG时，很明显有一个火炬可以继续推进，每个研究人员都将自己的观点融入到混合体中。
Inspired by Kay's vision, Victor soon discovered that inventing new dynamic media was the work he was born to do. Over the years, Victor had come to the conclusion that people desperately need to be relieved of many of the basic assumptions about what programming is and who gets to have the privilege of doing it; assumptions that settled into the sedimentary layer of technology 40 years ago and have barely moved since.
If we want a future where everyone can program as easily as drawing a map on a napkin, where the full power of computing is available to more than just professional programmers, we may need to reimagine programming itself.
Traditionally, programming languages exist within a holy trinity: The language, the tools, and the operating system. The trinity allows programmers to become masters of a general-purpose toolset that works across many languages. As C++ creator Bjarne Stroustrup writes in
传统上，编程语言存在于三位一体中：语言，工具和操作系统。三位一体允许程序员成为适用于多种语言的通用工具集的主人。正如C ++创建者Bjarne Stroustrup所写 The Design and Evolution of C++ , "The need for a programming language to be just a cog in a much larger machine is of utmost importance to most industrial users." He attributes C++'s broad appeal to its ability to fit into the trinity. It's very helpful to professional programmers when languages can play well together. The desire for interoperable languages and common tools is what holds the trinity in place, and any language that tries to break out has very little chance of becoming very popular.
As a result, most professional programmers today spend their days editing text files inside an 80-column-wide command line interface first designed in the mid-1960s. And most people don't even question it. But there is a subculture of programmers --- with Victor as its natural center --- who believe that programming is in a Dark Age because of this near-universal commitment to the trinity.
因此，如今大多数专业程序员都花费大量时间在最初设计于20世纪60年代中期的80列范围的命令行界面中编辑文本文件。大多数人甚至不会质疑它。但是有一个程序员的亚文化 - 以维克多作为其自然中心 - 他们认为编程处于黑暗时代，因为这种对三位一体的近乎普遍的承诺。
We need programming systems that break out of the trinity, that feel alive and fluid and that move closer to the domains most people care about. Spreadsheets hint at an alternative: They provide an environment that gives immediate feedback, where the code and the data live together in a graphical interface, with a language that is well-suited to common tabular data problems. Scratch, a popular programming system for children developed at MIT, is designed for play and creativity.
In Scratch, programs come together like jigsaw puzzles.
Learning programming is about learning problem solving while exploring the special kind of creativity that computers and software afford. Programming is where information becomes a living thing capable of movement, flowing through systems and adapting itself to various processes and models. It allows information to dance. And it could be so much more beautiful, playful, humane, and accessible than what the holy trinity affords.
Working with Sikka and his team at SAP, CDG spent all of 2013 putting an insulating layer between themselves and SAP so that the research could happen. Many of the decisions they made required exceptions and workarounds to SAP policies: They wanted their own office space, they wanted the researchers to retain IP rights, and so on. In a company of SAP's size, even with the blessing of the CTO, cutting through the red tape was exhausting for Victor, who took on a lot of the work. And simultaneously, he had to figure out how to create a research lab, find and design a space, build a team, and plan the research itself.
The work paid off, and 2014 was a very fruitful year. Victor hired four researchers to work with him, and he gave them autonomy to work on their own individual projects within a broad agenda. Early projects included
通过Toby Schachman, which allows people to do low-level graphics programming visually rather than write code, and an
，允许人们在视觉上进行低级图形编程，而不是编写代码，以及experiment in active video by
通过Glen Chiacchieri, using the PBS civil rights documentary "Eyes on the Prize."
The researchers believed they had at least 5--7 years of funding. With plenty of money in the bank, the research could be very exploratory and playful. There was no pressure to make anything marketable. The researchers could drop the performance of fast-paced productivity that pervades startup culture, and work at their own natural tempo. They could follow intuitive hunches that were unlikely to lead to anything. They could spend long, quiet days reading and doing uninterrupted deep work in a direction of their choosing. And, when inspiration struck, they could work all night --- or weeks on end --- on a new prototype.
研究人员认为他们至少有5 - 7年的资金。由于银行有足够的资金，研究可能非常具有探索性和趣味性。任何可以销售的产品都没有压力。研究人员可以放弃贯穿始创文化的快节奏生产力，并按照自己的自然节奏工作。他们可以遵循不太可能带来任何结果的直觉预感。他们可以在漫长而平静的日子里阅读，并在他们选择的方向上不间断地深入工作。并且，当灵感来袭时，他们可以在一个新的原型上整夜工作 - 或者数周 - 工作。
All that space and openness triggered at least one existential crisis. For Chiacchieri, a young software engineer recruited from MIT's Media Lab, working for Victor seemed like a dream job at first. But knowing that he could work on absolutely anything at all led him to deeply question his values. It created a lot of anxiety and eventually depression, and in his second year at the lab he spent several despairing months spinning around in circles. "With no one telling me what to work on, I had to decide for myself what was meaningful in this life. Because of how seriously I took my work, this process was very difficult for me," he wrote in a recent essay. Ultimately, after a series of psychedelic journeys with LSD, and existential conversations with his colleagues, Chiacchieri chose to
所有这些空间和开放都引发了至少一次存在主义危机。对于从麻省理工学院媒体实验室招聘的年轻软件工程师Chiacchieri来说，为Victor工作起初似乎是一个梦想的工作。但是知道他可以完全依赖任何事情，这使他对他的价值观产生了深刻的质疑。它造成了很多焦虑，并最终导致抑郁，在实验室的第二年，他花了几个绝望的月份在圈子里旋转。 "没有人告诉我该做些什么，我必须自己决定今生有什么意义。由于我对我的工作有多认真，这个过程对我来说非常困难，"他在最近的一篇文章中写道。最终，经过LSD的一系列迷幻之旅，以及与同事的存在性对话，Chiacchieri选择了quit tech and became a psychotherapist.
The exploratory openness of the lab was hampered in the summer of 2014, just a few months after CDG's opening party, when Sikka left SAP abruptly. Having lost their internal champion at SAP, CDG's longer-term future was looking unclear.
Kay largely protected the researchers from this disruption. At the time, Victor's team was creating a prototype system called
凯在很大程度上保护研究人员免受这种破坏。当时，Victor的团队正在创建一个名为的原型系统 Hypercard in the World , which allowed people to attach hyperlinks to physical objects.
Victor, and researcher
维克多和研究员Robert Ochshorn, turned all of the past work of the lab into a
，把实验室过去的所有工作都变成了 Hypercard in the World research gallery. Point to a project or paper listed on a big "index poster" using a laser pointer, and an adjacent display would show more information about the project. Another project by
研究画廊。指向使用激光指示器在大型"索引海报"上列出的项目或纸张，相邻的显示器将显示有关该项目的更多信息。另一个项目May-Li Khoe, called
，叫 Serengeti , used animal cut-outs to make a dynamic diorama about desert animals. Visitors could point to an animal with the laser pointer to learn more about it.
In late summer 2014, CDG hosted a Game Jam that was a real shining moment of fast-paced collaboration and prolificacy. Friends of the lab came over and made a dozen
2014年夏末，CDG举办了一场Game Jam，这是一个快节奏的合作和多产的真正闪亮时刻。实验室的朋友过来了，打了十几个 Hypercard in the World projects. Chiacchieri made a party game called
项目。 Chiacchieri做了一个名为的派对游戏Laser Socks using laser pointers, projectors pointed at the floor, and people jumping around in socks.
Over the next year, more exploratory prototypes were built. "I would do these weird art projects," Schachman said. He hosted a
在接下来的一年里，建造了更多探索性原型。 "我会做这些奇怪的艺术项目，"Schachman说。他主持了一个Mirror Hacking Workshop where he invited people to create sculptures using laser-cut mirrors. At the time it seemed unrelated to the research, but upon reflection he had a big insight about collaboration and the power of eye contact, and working with physical materials, and allowing people to see what others are doing. And he began to ask, why can't computing be more like this?
Meanwhile, the relationship with the corporate overlords at SAP gradually broke down, and by early 2016 it was clear that CDG needed a new home. Around the same time, Victor made it clear to his group that they needed to come together and build a single system, rather than work primarily on individual research projects. Several researchers didn't want to go along for the ride, and left.
By May 2016, Kay was able to charm Y Combinator's president and A-type startup whisperer Sam Altman. They created Human Advancement Research Community (HARC) inside of YC Research and absorbed the CDG researchers there. Altman generously agreed to fund HARC out of pocket while they waited for other promised funding to come through.
到2016年5月，Kay能够吸引Y Combinator的总裁和A型创业低语者Sam Altman。他们在YC Research内部创建了人类进步研究社区（HARC），并吸收了那里的CDG研究人员。奥特曼慷慨地同意在等待其他承诺资金到来时为HARC提供资金。
That arrangement lasted a little over a year. In July 2017, just a few months after HARC moved into a beautifully renovated building in old Oakland, Altman abruptly defunded the lab.
It's unclear why he pulled the plug. In his Y Combinator
目前还不清楚他为什么拔掉插头。在他的Y Combinator中annual letter in February 2017, he said that the work coming out of Victor's lab "remain one of the new technologies I think most about." But a person close to Altman told me that by July his excitement had shifted from HARC to OpenAI, another YC Research project where he is now CEO. Amidst the ashes, a burned-out Kay left for London, and the research groups disbanded.
Victor's group, however, had one thing keeping them going: Just two weeks before they learned about HARC's demise, the group's new programming system --- Realtalk --- had taken its first baby steps. Operating at about one frame per second it was more of a crawl, but it was a very exciting crawl.
The ideas behind Realtalk incorporated all of the lessons learned from past projects like Hypercard in the World. The researchers ---
Realtalk背后的想法结合了过去项目中的所有经验教训，如Hypercard in the World。研究人员---Josh Horowitz,
，Luke Iannini, Toby Schachman,
，Toby Schachman，Paula Te, and Bret Victor, along with producer
和Bret Victor以及制片人Virginia McArthur --- had spent a year designing the new system and two months bringing it to life.
Inspired by the potential of their new system, Victor's research group opted to go out on their own, take over HARC's Oakland space, and start fundraising for themselves.
In a talk he gave last year at Harvard, Victor laid out three major design principles from the research that were incorporated into Realtalk:
- The medium should be communal and accessible. People should learn and collaborate through awareness, with no assumption of a single, isolated user sitting at a laptop with a keyboard and mouse.
- The medium should allow people to think with their bodies, because we are more than fingers and hands.
- The medium should expand people's agency and liberate their creativity; rather than being an app with a limited set of features defined by a corporation and imposed on people.
Instead of simulating things like paper and pencils inside a computer, Realtalk grants computational value to everyday objects in the world. The building is the computer. Space is a first-class entity --- a building block of computation. Digital projectors, cameras, and computers are inconspicuously attached to the ceiling rafters, creating space on tables and walls for projects and collaboration. Most of the software is printed on paper and runs on paper. But the deeper idea is that when the system recognizes any physical object, it becomes a computational object.
When the system recognizes a physical object,
it becomes a computational object.
Several of the researchers had never created such a complete, low-level system before. It narrowed their focus and brought a sense of alignment to the team just in time to start fundraising.
With only a few months of cash in the bank, trade-offs were made. Instead of perfect conceptual purity and deep flexibility, the team focused on polishing up what they had for funders.
Today, Realtalk projects have taken over most of the building --- each one a little constellation of paper and light. The tables and walls are lit up with radiant multicolored comets, rain and frogs and octopi, puzzles and graphs, clocks and maps. A music sequencer by Te called
今天，Realtalk项目占据了大部分建筑 - 每个建筑都有一个纸和光的星座。桌子和墙壁上点缀着璀璨的彩色彗星，雨水和青蛙以及章鱼，谜题和图表，时钟和地图。 Te的音乐音序器叫 Beats of the World lets you design rhythmic loops with felt tokens.
通过Omar Rizwan is a giant interactive wall map.
I sit at a table and point a keyboard at a page labeled "Code editor." An editor appears.
Hit Control-P, and a laser printer spits out a page with your program written on it.
Here's what the page for "Hello, World" looks like:
Place this page onto any surface and you will see its output projected on top:
| | It's a little silly to write a classic Hello World program in Realtalk, when you can simply write "Hello, World!" on a piece of paper with a marker, if those are the words you want to see.
| |在Realtalk中编写经典的Hello World程序有点傻，当你可以简单地写"你好，世界！"在一张带有标记的纸上，如果这些是您想要看到的单词。
As long as it is on the table, it's running. Flip it over and it will stop.
Paper can be cut, glittered, stamped, torn, taped, stapled and scrawled upon. It can be glued to spinners, made into miniature books, or folded into origami and flicked across the table. It's a great format for prototyping. Kids love it. Everyone loves it. It immediately invites new ideas.
Realtalk projects come to life by writing one or more programs on pages, and physically arranging them on a table. Pages can easily communicate with each other, making composition and interactivity easy.
Aside from paper, there are also dots. The computer vision algorithm recognizes M&Ms, little felt tokens, even painted fingernails as dots. Want a slider control? Draw a straight line with a marker, place a dot onto the page, and slide it with your finger. Or glue a dot onto the end of a popsicle stick.
The entire source code for Realtalk is printed and posted across several rolling whiteboards. Developer tools for printing and debugging hang from a pegboard that would look at home in a woodshop. Projects are stuffed into binders and plastic cases labelled Dinner Party Games, Rainbow Canvas, Shape Cycle, and Radial Animation. People learn by example, reading the pages that are posted around the space, and flipping through little ring-bound tutorial zines that can be run on any surface.
The source code for Realtalk is printed on rolling whiteboards at Dynamicland
When you place a page on the table, the code on it is continually running. When you make changes, the feedback is immediate. There's a feeling of dancing with code that's hard to describe. It's easy to find the satisfaction of quick progress. It maximizes the flow of ideas. I'm constantly surprised by the new ideas that emerge from bugs and quirks. I let go of "How should it work?" as I feel my way toward what I want, allowing for happy accidents along the way.
Realtalk programs are constantly remixed and passed around. They become physical memes and are reprinted and copied and modified. I had this happen with a simple Magic 8 Ball page attached to a spinner. I wrote it without much thought, left it out on a table, and when I came back a couple weeks later I found several remixes of it around the space. Pages with emotional power or universal utility seem to proliferate.
Realtalk程序经常被重新混合并传递。它们变成了物理模因，并被重新打印，复制和修改。我在旋转器附带一个简单的Magic 8 Ball页面时发生了这种情况。我没有多想就把它写下来，把它放在桌子上，几周后我回来的时候，我发现它周围有几个混音。具有情感力量或普遍效用的页面似乎激增。
The "communal and accessible" principle is where the lab still has a lot of work to do. It's a hard problem. Most of the major projects on display were made by individual researchers, not a group. Several of the researchers are programmers who grew up coding by themselves, and it's a tough habit to break. Solo flow is very seductive.
It makes sense that they're selective about who they invite to the lab and when (and how) to share the research itself. They are sensitive to their language and working style being polluted by Silicon Valleyspeak and brogrammer culture. And there's a tension between containing the research so it can develop in the safety of the lab environment, and creating a community space so that the medium can be designed in conversation with many kinds of people. "We have to open the research to letting more people come in and help us shape it, so that it's not just benefitting the same kind of people who have had the privilege to become programmers," Te said. "As someone whose perspective as a non-white non-male has always been underrepresented, my goal is to empower those who aren't represented by dominant culture be a part of inventing new mediums." | | We have before us the opportunity to design the future, not simply to predict it. The largely white, male, technocratic structure that has profited so richly in the past stands now to move ahead of the rest of society by immesurable degrees. ... There is, nevertheless, the opportunity to demystify the exotic, simplify the arcane, and render the computer simple, accessible, and democratic.
他们选择参加实验室的人以及何时（以及如何）分享研究本身是有道理的。他们对自己的语言和工作方式很敏感，受到硅谷和布莱克文化的污染。包含研究之间存在紧张关系，因此它可以在实验室环境的安全性中发展，并创建一个社区空间，以便可以在与多种人的对话中设计媒体。 "我们必须开展这项研究，让更多的人进来帮助我们塑造它，这样才不会让那些有幸成为程序员的同类人受益，"Te说。 "作为非白人非男性的观点一直不足的人，我的目标是赋予那些没有主流文化代表的人成为发明新媒体的一部分。" | |我们面前有机会设计未来，而不仅仅是预测它。过去盈利如此丰富的白人，男性，技术官僚结构现在已经超越了社会其他部分。 ......然而，有机会揭开异国情调的神秘面纱，简化奥术，并使计算机变得简单，易用和民主。
| --- Creative Computing , December 1981
One element that encourages community: Dynamicland is the only place you can go to work on Realtalk projects. I can't work on projects alone at home. There's no GitHub for Realtalk. My time at Dynamicland feels precious, and that preciousness seems to elevate my creativity. Maybe this is what it felt like to have to schedule a block of time at a university computer before the PC era.
Is Realtalk the future? No. In the larger arc of the research, it's just a single iteration. It's a suggestion: Maybe by going back to the drawing board, and redesigning things further down the stack, we can escape the Dark Age of the command line, and computational literacy itself can become more accessible and communal.
Victor's dream is to be able to experience an entire scientific paper --- or the entire global supply chain --- in a computationally-driven room. To explore the data with more richness and depth than would be possible on a single screen. And on the most existential level, his hope is that the research might help to avert human extinction. If we can understand the complexity of our world more broadly, we'll be in a better long-term position to mitigate risks that may threaten civilization.
It's early 2019 and I'm walking to meet Bret Victor at his apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the coldest day of the year. I walk past IDEO's Cambridge office, situated right between Harvard and MIT. Design firms like IDEO sell a flavor of research that promise to deliver fresh new ideas to blue chip clients. The exterior is painted with geometric shapes and bright colors that signal an appropriate amount of creativity. It says,
现在是2019年初，我正走在马萨诸塞州剑桥市的公寓里，在一年中最冷的一天去见布雷特维克多。我走过位于哈佛大学和麻省理工学院之间的IDEO剑桥办公室。像IDEO这样的设计公司出售一系列研究，承诺为蓝筹客户提供新的创意。外观涂有几何形状和明亮的颜色，表明适当的创造力。它说， we're playful but serious. We'll help you feel safe moving into some new creative territory. We'll bring the best of Design Thinking and rapid prototyping. And we promise not to be too wild.
Dynamicland, in contrast, seems to cherish total intellectual freedom. When I first visited the lab at an open house in early 2018, I thought of Children's Television Workshop in its heyday: Countercultural, research-backed, subversive, experimental, sometimes brilliant, always underfunded. A few tireless inventors pour themselves into the work, day and night. Open a random drawer, and it would be no surprise to find a collection of toy eyeballs rolling around inside.
Victor left the Bay Area last fall and is taking a sabbatical to recover from the intensity of years of fundraising and management of the lab. He greets me at his front door with a warm smile. Though he grew up in the Bay Area, Victor seems at home right here, steps from MIT's campus.
He chugs away at a bottle of water while we talk. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of computer history and he loves to tell those stories. He told me about the hacker culture that emerged around the TX-0 computer at MIT in the mid-1950s. The TX-0 was down the hall from the Model Railroad Club, and some of the railroad nerds discovered that they could have the computer to themselves late at night, when researchers frequently overslept and missed their timeslots. The first known word processor was created there --- it was dubbed "Expensive Typewriter" because everyone thought it was absurd to use a $3 million computer to write a term paper. As a lifelong software engineer listening to Victor's stories, I felt a tinge of embarrassment, having never studied the history of computer science very deeply.
我们谈话的时候，他在一瓶水里偷偷溜走。他对计算机历史有着百科全书的知识，他喜欢讲述这些故事。他告诉我20世纪50年代中期麻省理工学院TX-0计算机周围出现的黑客文化。 TX-0从模型铁路俱乐部下来的大厅，一些铁路书呆子发现他们可以让自己的电脑深夜，当时研究人员经常睡过头而错过他们的时间段。第一个已知的文字处理器是在那里创建的 - 它被称为"昂贵的打字机"，因为每个人都认为用300万美元的计算机来写一篇学期论文是荒谬的。作为一名聆听Victor故事的终身软件工程师，我感到有些尴尬，从未深入研究过计算机科学的历史。
MIT's TX-0 Computer, 1955
We end up talking for several hours. As he starts telling me the story of the lab, I get the sense he has been looking for a sympathetic ear. Some catharsis after a six-year rollercoaster ride.
He seems tired. CDG was his first management role. For a prolific maker, that's a big shift that requires a lot of energy and personal growth. He has to own the context for context-making (Dynamicland) and contribute to the context itself (Realtalk), all while dreaming about --- but having almost no time left over to make --- projects within the context.
他好像很累。 CDG是他的第一个管理角色。对于一个多产的制造商来说，这是一个需要大量精力和个人成长的重大转变。他必须拥有上下文创建的上下文（Dynamicland），并为上下文本身（Realtalk）做出贡献，同时梦想着 - 但几乎没有时间留下来 - 在上下文中进行项目。
But this is clearly his life's work. He often flashes a sly grin as he tells stories about Dynamicland, looking like a little boy who knows he's gotten away with something very clever. We talk a lot about the context-building work he did, and he says he has tried to treat Dynamicland like a biological containment facility. He feels there's been so much damage done by half-baked ideas stolen from research labs by entrepreneurs. This is clearly a big concern for him. "The thing about taking a deep idea and making a mass-produced, superficial treatment of it, is that after that point it becomes impossible to see the deep idea," he says. | | As to whether Jobs really stole something from Xerox PARC or not, the story is more complicated. As Malcolm Gladwell
但这显然是他一生的工作。当他讲述有关Dynamicland的故事时，他经常闪烁着狡猾的笑容，看起来像一个小男孩，他知道他已经得到了一些非常聪明的东西。我们谈论了他所做的背景建设工作，他说他曾试图将Dynamicland视为生物遏制设施。他觉得企业家从研究实验室偷走的半生不熟的想法造成了很大的破坏。这显然是他的一个大问题。 "关于深入思考并对其进行大规模生产，表面处理的问题在于，在那之后，我们无法看到深刻的想法，"他说。 | |至于乔布斯是否真的偷了施乐PARC的东西，这个故事就更复杂了。正如马尔科姆·格拉德威尔tells it in The New Yorker, Apple didn't just copy and paste the GUI's look and feel from PARC, they evolved it in order to bring it to market, inventing the menu bar, the pull-down menu, the trash can, and direct manipulation of GUI elements that made the whole thing much more user-friendly.
He told me the story of Steve Jobs lifting the idea for the graphical user interface from the Smalltalk team for use in the Macintosh. In Smalltalk, the GUI was used for programming the computer. The original concept of object-oriented programming was entirely graphical --- objects on the screen represented objects in the program. That was the deep idea. But in the Macintosh, the GUI didn't allow for programming the computer at all. Jobs made a shallow clone of Smalltalk's deep ideas in order to get the first Macintosh onto the market.
他告诉我史蒂夫乔布斯从Smalltalk团队提升图形用户界面的想法，以便在Macintosh中使用。在Smalltalk中，GUI用于编程计算机。面向对象编程的最初概念完全是图形化的 - 屏幕上的对象代表程序中的对象。这是一个深刻的想法。但是在Macintosh中，GUI根本不允许对计算机进行编程。为了让第一台Macintosh进入市场，乔布斯对Smalltalk的深层创意进行了浅层克隆。
Victor's commitment to treasuring deep ideas is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. It gives him the purpose and energy to create the context for Dynamicland, and to commit to his own deep ideas for long enough to bring them to life in beautiful ways. The risk, however, is that nothing is ever considered done and therefore nothing is ever shared. That every share is provisional. He seems to want to be understood so deeply that no expression of his ideas is ever quite deep enough.
Usually, one person doesn't play both inventor and virtuoso. Les Paul invented the electric guitar to bring more warmth to his smooth jazz, and he could never have foreseen how Jimi Hendrix would use it. "The overload of the guitar comes to connote the idea of breaking the frame of the equipment --- doing something that can't be contained --- and this adds a whole new side to one's expressive palette, because one can now juxtapose things that can be contained against things that 'can't'," wrote Brian Eno in his 1996 diary,
通常，一个人不兼顾发明家和演奏家。 Les Paul发明了电吉他，为他流畅的爵士乐带来了更多的温暖，他永远无法预见到Jimi Hendrix会如何使用它。 "吉他的超载意味着打破设备框架的想法 - 做一些无法控制的东西 - 这为一个人的表现调色板增添了一个全新的一面，因为现在可以并置一些东西布莱恩·伊诺（Brian Eno）在1996年的日记中写道，这可以遏制"不能"的事情。 A Year With Swollen Appendices .
Victor is Jimi Hendrix playing the role of Les Paul, and there's a tension here that makes him well suited to endure cycles of making and breaking the medium as it evolves.
Victor是Jimi Hendrix扮演Les Paul的角色，这里有一种紧张感，这使他非常适合在演变过程中忍受制作和打破媒体的循环。
He doesn't mitigate the never-ending nature of the work by looking to the horizon for market potential, as a startup founder would. The pressure on a non-profit research lab is different: They need to demonstrate the research in a way that invites collaboration and funding. But Victor and his team have been burned out on fundraising, which requires an incredible amount of time and energy. Also, he has his own sense of when a research cycle is done, and he doesn't want funding to dictate that.
It may be what he needs, however. The funding rollercoaster has been an instrumental driver at Dynamicland. The lab has benefitted from external accountability to reign in the very personal creative research work, and Dynamicland has a strong record of creative output since 2013, even though Victor doesn't seem to relish being the limelight for a big demo or presentation. The work shows itself off in the tech community. Dynamicland is social media candy, and visitors can't help posting about how cool Realtalk is, so the project has a life of its own on the internet.
But how will the research reach a larger audience? Can the impact of it be designed or even steered, or is it completely out of their hands?
"I don't know what the solution to reaching a large audience is," he says. "Maybe it takes a hundred years. It was a hundred years from the invention of the printing press to books being part of the general culture."
Later, he told me they have plans. In July 2019, Dynamicland started working on Realtalk-2020 --- the next iteration of their programming system.
In the purview of a venture capitalist, technological innovation happens through the evolutionary process of the entire startup ecosystem. Through many cycles of birth and death and acquisition. But, if every startup operates under exactly the same set of constraints of runway and product-market fit and single-origin espresso, it puts a damper on exactly the kind of deliberate creativity that Dynamicland fosters. We need more organizations like Dynamicland, occupying the space between startups and academic research labs. Places designed to dream in longer timelines.
Back home in San Francisco, I can't help but wonder about the inner motivations that the researchers bring to the work. If the research is very open-ended, then perhaps a researcher's work is only "done" once they resolve a core dilemma within themselves. Chiacchieri wants to help people feel happier, and this discovery has led him to psychotherapy training. Schachman cares so much about eye contact and playful collaboration in Realtalk, because he wants to feel more connected. Te hopes to create a medium that truly honors diversity, because she wants to feel a greater sense of belonging in the world of computational research.
回到旧金山的家中，我不禁怀疑研究人员为工作带来的内在动机。如果研究是非常开放的，那么研究人员的工作或许只有在解决了自身内部的核心困境后才能"完成"。 Chiacchieri希望帮助人们感到更快乐，这一发现使他接受了心理治疗培训。 Schachman非常关心Realtalk中的眼神交流和俏皮合作，因为他希望感觉更有联系。我希望创造一种真正尊重多样性的媒介，因为她希望在计算研究领域感受到更大的归属感。
Through the millennia, empirical evidence and bottom-up scientific discovery has gradually claimed territory from traditional top-down religious doctrine. What we consider unknown or mysterious continues to shrink, even if the scale of the cosmos means that the shrinkage takes the form of ∞ - x, where ∞ is the vast unknown and x is all of science.
几千年来，经验证据和自下而上的科学发现逐渐从传统的自上而下的宗教教义中获得了领土。我们认为未知或神秘的东西继续缩小，即使宇宙的规模意味着收缩采取∞ - x的形式，其中∞是巨大的未知数，x是科学的全部。
From the outside, Victor seems most excited about expanding x, following in the footsteps of the great scientists and researchers. But what are his inner motivations?
A desire to expand awareness. To be more "in the world." To experience the full complexity of reality just as it is. To explore the creative potential of empty space. To be free of the conditioned thinking of peers. To break out of prisons of representation.
Coincidentally, these are major themes of the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti's discourses on spiritual enlightenment in the mid-20th century.
Krishnamurti had the difficult job of speaking for the ∞ side of the divide. He had a hyper-rational perspective on spirituality, he distrusted religion and ideology, and he promoted rigorous empirical self-inquiry. While Victor explores representation, simulation, and modeling of the external world, Krishnamurti asks that we methodically, internally let go of all representations and concepts.
"[Is the mind] capable of being free, empty?", writes Krisnamurti. "It can be empty only by understanding all its projections and activities, not off and on, but from day to day, from moment to moment. Then you will find ... that the state of creative emptiness is not a thing to be cultivated --- it is there, it comes darkly, without any invitation, and only in that state is there a possibility of renewal, newness and revolution."
Victor wants to experience the revolutionary ∞. He seems to be on a spiritual quest, seeking an insight that Alan Kay calls "a kerpow." An opening into a new dimension. Because deeper than any deep idea, somewhere beyond the land of ideas entirely, there is a rich and boundless terrain that has never been mapped, though we have tried for thousands of years.
Thanks to Siobhán Cronin, Matt Hackett, and Xiaowei Wang for your feedback and support.