Mar 012013

Since our last newsletter, we’ve continued to make great progress on shaping the stories of Computing.

It seems like every time we study some new material, we discover yet new stories we want to tell. The really hard part of our work has been deciding what stories not to present! The story of computing is the story of humanity, and both are full of compeling and surprising events.

Last year, our Kickstarter backers made possible the launch of a lecture series on Computing, and we are now ready to present our next one in the series, “I Think, Therefore I Am.” This lecture will take place at the Computer History Museum on Monday, March 11th, at noon. You can register here for this free event.

In this lecture, Grady will explore the questions “Is the mind computable? Can we build sentient machines? What are the implications for humanity if we can?” We will explore the development of intelligent computers as projections of what we dream as well as what we fear. We examine what it means to be intelligent, and take a journey through past and future approaches to building sentient software-intensive systems. Some such as Minsky believe the mind to be computable; other such as Penrose do not. In the end, we are compelled to consider the question of what it means to be human: producing even the illusion of the mind raises profound questions as to their personhood and our relationship to these machines.

Our Maui Friends of Computing group gathered the other evening to hear a test run of this next Computing lecture. As always, they gave us great feedback. Sign up for our lecture at the Computer History Museum on the 11th and be a part of that journey!

We’ve completed the editing of our sizzle reel, and will soon present it to corporate PBS. It really is true that a lot of work ends on the cutting room floor! Here are some screen shots from the final video. We put an Easter egg in one of the scenes: notice an embedded video from our Kickstarter happy dance!

Thus far in our research for Computing, we’ve absorbed almost 1,000 books, numerous other documentaries, a multitude of original sources, and a cornucopia of information drawn from resources on the web. As we continued our development of the storylines for Computing, we found ourselves in need of a better way to organize the abundance of research notes we’d collected, to establish a more flexible platform that would sustain our creative work during production, and to process the many, many sites that we’d simply not had the time or attention to metabolize. To that end, we’ve created a private research portal to help us catalog, search, and reason about the research we’ve collected. We looked at various off-the-shelf solutions (such as Evernote), but in the end, we made our own! Well, we ARE geeks at heart, and a day without programming is like a day without sunshine. We have well over 6,000 Web pages we’d like to catalog and tag, and we could use your help. In the coming weeks, expect to hear an appeal from us by Twitter and by email to help crowdsource some of that work on our research site.


As mentioned in our first newsletter, Grady was awarded the Lovelace Medal by the BCS Academy of Computing. He’s now scheduled to give his Lovelace lecture on June 27th in London at the Institute of Physics. Visit the BCS site for more information on how you can register for this event.

Interested in writing for our series? We’d love to talk with you about doing just that! We have created the Authors Central page on our site where you can learn more about the series and explore the process of writing for O’Reilly Media. There is also a contact form for letting us know you are interested in writing.

At the upcoming Impact conference in Las Vegas in late April, Jan and Grady will be hosting a meet-and-greet for potential authors. During that conference, Grady will be interviewing Tim O’Reilly (who is also one of Computing‘s advisors). Grady will also be presenting an encore of the lecture “I Think, Therefore I Am” on Wednesday, May 1st.

Grady continues to write a column for IEEE Software titled “On Computing,” addressing the impact of computing on humanity. You may find the podcasts of each of his articles here. His latest article and podcast is titled “From Minecraft to Minds”, exploring some of the same themes you’ll hear in his upcoming lecture at the Computer History Museum.