[etoys-america-latina] [squeakland] [IAEP] Plan Ceibal y/and General Electric

Alan Kay alan.nemo em yahoo.com
Sábado Fevereiro 5 18:50:15 EST 2011

Hi Chunka

It's basically "hunting and gathering" vs. "agriculture". Or "parisitism" vs 
"symbiosis". These are built into human nervous systems by genetics, but it is 
still surprising given that we've had agriculture for more than 10,000 years, 
and one would think it would be more generally noticed and understood.

Here is an example from today that is like the impulse and vision that propelled 
the 12 year effort that invented personal computing and the Internet.

The idea reaches back to the 60s and 70s, but an above threshold invention was 
not accomplished.

Children need to be helped to learn important things, such as reading and 
writing, mathematics and science and engineering. The helpers need to understand 
the subject matter, and also how to help the learning process with individual 
learners. Studies have shown that for many learners, just lowering the 
learner-to-helper ratio makes an enormous difference.

For the US, it has been calculated that it is not possible to create enough 
knowledgeable K-8 teachers for math and science over the next 25 years, even for 
the 30:1 student teacher ratios we have today. It has been estimated that this 
problem is much worse in the developing world.

Vision: It is a destiny for interactive computers to become sensitive expert 
learning helpers for many important parts of human knowledge which children need 
to learn.

This is an extension of what the printing press has meant for learning. There 
aren't enough Socrates' and other great teachers to go around, but important 
parts of their magic can be captured in print, replicated and distributed by the 
millions. This allowed more ordinary teachers plus great-books to do some of 
what great teachers can do. And this changed the world.

Computers can represent books and all other media, and they should be able to 
actively help us learn to read them (even if we start off not being able to read 
at all). And we should be able to go much farther beyond the book, to make 
computer helpers that can also understand and answer many questions in ways that 
extend our learning rather than undermines the growth of our minds.

These computer helpers also help the human helpers. It's not about replacing 
humans (even if they don't exist) with computers, but making a more powerful 
learning environment using technology to help.

This is a hard vision to pull off, just as personal computing was. The funding 
needed to be long term in the 60s because much had to be done to (a) even find a 
version of the vision that could serve as "problem and goals", and very 
importantly (b) to "grow" the grad students and PhDs, who as second and third 
generation researchers, were able to frame the problem and do the inventions.

The payoff has been enormous. The inventions at PARC alone have generated about 
$30 Trillion dollars of wealth worldwide (and yes Xerox's return on their 
investment in PARC has been more than a factor of 200 (from the laser printer 

The great funding in the 60s was done mostly by the government, and for personal 
computing and pervasive networks was spread over more than 15 universities and 
research companies who formed a cooperative research community. (The story of 
this is told in "The Dream Machine" by Mitchel Waldrop).

The funders today do not have a lot of vision, and they have even less courage. 
A new kind of user interface that can help people learn is not just for the very 
important needs of education around the world, but will also open up learning in 
business, defense, and for consumer design and products.

How much would this cost? A critical mass of institutions and researchers could 
be supported starting at about $100M/year. By contrast, the estimated US 
spending for Iraq and Afghanistan for 2011 is about $170B. So we are talking 
initially about less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the cost of these wars.

What's the hitch. First there is risk. It is a very difficult problem. But I 
think a bigger hitch is that it is likely to take more than 10 years to pull 
off. This is longer than any corporate or government cycle. 

Perhaps a larger hitch lies in one of the biggest changes in funding today as 
compared to the 60s. There is no question that a funder of large research monies 
for high risk projects is "responsible". Today's funders are so worried about 
this responsibility that they confuse it with "control" and tried to insert 
themselves in the decision processes. This is a disaster (they are funders not 
researchers, and the more visionary and difficult the projects, the less their 
opinion can be at all germane.)

The 60s funders made no such error. They said "we can't evaluate projects behind 
the Beltway, so we'll fund people not projects". This required trust in both 
directions, but it is a proper and good allocation of expertise.

The other thing that the 60s funders pointed out when queried by worried 
politicians, is that they were "playing baseball" not "going to school", meaning 
that given the high risk and high payoff of the research, they only needed to 
bat .350 and "the world will be changed"). Today's funders want certainty, and 
this is engineering at best, and this does not change the world because the hard 
important problems never get worked on.

Best wishes


From: Chunka Mui <chunka.mui em devilsadvocategroup.com>
To: Alan Kay <alan.nemo em yahoo.com>
Cc: Carlos Rabassa <carnen em mac.com>; "america-latina em squeakland.org" 
<america-latina em squeakland.org>; "squeakland em squeakland.org" 
<squeakland em squeakland.org>; Maho 2010 <maho em realness.org>; IAEP SugarLabs 
<iaep em lists.sugarlabs.org>; voluntarios y administradores OLPC para usuarios 
docentes <olpc-sur em lists.laptop.org>; olpc bolivia 
<olpc-bolivia em lists.laptop.org>; OLPC Puno <olpcpuno em gmail.com>
Sent: Sat, February 5, 2011 1:31:45 PM
Subject: Re: [squeakland] [IAEP] Plan Ceibal y/and General Electric

Re: [squeakland] [IAEP] Plan Ceibal y/and General Electric 
Alan  -- 

I’ve seen many organizations claim to be committed to “innovation,” while 
eschewing “invention.”  Everyone harvesting while refusing to sow makes for bad 
strategy, both societal and corporate.  I guess it’s “rational” in some 
short-term sense and another example of the free rider problem.  There’s an 
insidious side-effect as well.  By rejecting invention, those organizations 
implicitly or explicitly restrict the consideration set for even incremental 
innovation.  It’s hard to reach for even small aspirations if you’re always 
being told to not be “too far out.” So my experience matches your general point. 

I don’t make much experience, however, with the specific example that you were 
referring to.  I’d like to hear more about your perspective about the guiding 
principles pre and post ‘82, and how each set of leaders/funders rationalized 
their viewpoints.  I’d also be interested in your sense of the trend on this 
topic, since we have a new generation of high tech corporate leaders and funders 
and, clearly, another round of massive wealth being generated.


On 2/5/11 1:11 PM, "Alan Kay" <alan.nemo em yahoo.com> wrote:

Hi Chunka,
>I've been challenged on this point more than once, and have challenged back to 
>come up with one invention that was done after 1980 that matches up to the top 
>10 done before 1980. 
>This has not happened. I've been able to show the prior art for all 
>Essentially everything in the last 30 years has been commercializations and 
>other forms of "innovation" based on what was funded by ARPA, ONR, and by 
>extension, Xerox in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
>The important point here is that there are many new inventions needed, and they 
>can be identified, but no one has been willing to fund them. It's not that the 
>early birds got the worms, but that most of the needed worms out there are being 
From: Chunka Mui <chunka em cornerloft.com>
>To: Alan Kay <alan.nemo em yahoo.com>
>Cc: Carlos Rabassa <carnen em mac.com>; "america-latina em squeakland.org" 
><america-latina em squeakland.org>; squeakland.org mailing list 
><squeakland em squeakland.org>; Maho 2010 <maho em realness.org>; IAEP SugarLabs 
><iaep em lists.sugarlabs.org>; voluntarios y administradores OLPC para usuarios 
>docentes <olpc-sur em lists.laptop.org>; olpc bolivia 
><olpc-bolivia em lists.laptop.org>; OLPC Puno <olpcpuno em gmail.com>
>Sent: Sat, February 5, 2011 10:53:44 AM
>Subject: Re: [squeakland] [IAEP] Plan Ceibal y/and General Electric
>On Jan 30, 2011, at 9:21 AM, Alan Kay <alan.nemo em yahoo.com> wrote:
>GE is being congratulated for recognizing that the iPhone and iPad are pretty 
>good ideas and technological realizations. But isn't this like the 
>congratulations Bill Gates got for finally recognizing the Internet (about 25 
>years after it had started working)?
>>Seems as though Apple had a lot more on the ball than Bill Gates or GE here 
>>(they used to do computing in the 60s, but couldn't see what it was).
>>And most of the ideas at Apple (and for personal computing and the Internet) 
>>came from research funding that no company or government has been willing to do 
>>since 1982.

Alan -- Could you say more about this point?  Surely there's been tons of CS and 
IT funding since '82, both govt funding to universities and massive research 
budgets at msft, hp, 


From:Carlos Rabassa <carnen em mac.com>
>To: america-latina em squeakland.org; squeakland.org <http://squeakland.org> 
> mailing list <squeakland em squeakland.org>; Maho 2010 <maho em realness.org>; IAEP 
>SugarLabs <iaep em lists.sugarlabs.org>; voluntarios y administradores OLPC para 
>usuarios docentes <olpc-sur em lists.laptop.org>; olpc bolivia 
><olpc-bolivia em lists.laptop.org>; OLPC Puno <olpcpuno em gmail.com>
>Sent: Sun, January 30, 2011 4:11:49 AM
>Subject: [IAEP] Plan Ceibal y/and General Electric
>We try to learn from those who have succeed for a long time:
> <https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1XWm2q8nQ-l5KUJ_PWkQruLDx-nZ7nsKDfg4idDlsU50>
>Carlos Rabassa
>IAEP -- It's An Education Project (not a laptop project!)
> <mailto:IAEP em lists.sugarlabs.org> IAEP em lists.sugarlabs.org
>squeakland mailing list
>squeakland em squeakland.org

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