I am involved in research and development of information systems and human interfaces, to manifest tools (information technology) with which any interested person can operate more efficiently; specifically, tools which increase/augment ability/capacity/facility while reducing physiological/psychological demands. Essentially, I work to augment mind/consciousness (of which, concrete utility/prosperity is implicit).
It seems others see similar silhouettes, but it also seems I see much which many do not. In any case, I remain involved in this research/development, and I wish to communicate/cooperate with others in the development of such tools/process because I think they are useful to more than merely me.
This text addresses the context, here in «preliminary», of my contemplation/research/development as expressed in «general» and «specific». This documentation remains incomplete and subject to recurrent revision/mutation.
These are seed-like forms; compact/abstract/implicit, as their meaning extends – grows in a fertile mind – into innate semantic state space. I see much to show (which seems as potentially useful to others as it is to me) but I have nothing to prove.
I am a naturally curious/sensitive person, learning through a self-sustaining process of feeding this curiosity/sensitivity. I mean to distinguish here between the kind of knowledge which may be learned from personal experience/involvement, and that which may be acquired/accepted without internal verification/understanding/invention (Does one truly understand the wheel without reinvention?).
In many ways, I am a disappointed alien within my species. Naively optimistic, I search the human record hoping to see further and more clearly, but my inspiration generally withers and returns to the vision/process which employs my mind, nourishes my curiosity, and compels me to communicate/manifest/express what I see/learn.
For many years, I have employed an unusual situation: In contrast to the usual hurried/busy/stressed human life, most of my attention/time has been freely available to direct as I wish, with minimal distraction. This situation/environment is directly related and essential to the nature of my work.
A compelling sense/perception of unification pervades my experience of this universe (my cosmology/ontology) and it is therefore difficult, if not destructive, to isolate/dislocate particular patterns from the associative network of which they are conceived. Further, the diversity of my interest/curiosity inhibits specificity. This is the context of my communication.
It is beyond my present condition (within such limited/disembodied bandwidth/communication) to illustrate what I see in a way which seems satisfactory. I can only place a few points here and there, upon these patterns of patterns (of the seed and the tree) and trust that we both may see (link: maps.html)…
I notice in myself, some relevant resonance with the following persons/projects (a brief/incomplete/unordered list).
I am sadly surprised that some fundamental tools for the augmentation of mind remain unavailable, apparently not yet embodied. Of course, we do have much more than what was available decades, if not years, ago, but it is not as much the what which seems so deficient, as the how (i.e. how we use what we have). I see that we can realise our objectives faster and easier by using our resources differently, in more naturally efficient ways. Ongoing examination of archetypes/paradigms/precepts/axioms/maxims can be useful, if not necessary.
The curious consciousness can be equipped with some basic tools: collectively, a semi-autonomous prosthesis for the mind; a truly personal computer which learns about its owner; like a superego/tutor/friend which remains ready to observe and feed that curiosity/consciousness through an evolving and increasingly potent interface.
Biological nervous systems are well-adapted to interacting/dancing with the dynamic and unpredictable environment of present process. By contrast, digital systems excel in the manipulation of memory/data/samples/symbols. The nervous system can remain free of the frozen state and storage burden of static data without giving up its accessibility.
It seems we are involuntarily compelled by pattern recognition to capture/record/remember. We put our records into containers for future retrieval, trying to organise them in vain, as the maintenance of the growing database increasingly/ironically/unsustainably consumes our attention. But this universe appears to be self-organised, and our data can be too, like an ocean of data in which an evolving ecology of self-organising algorithms/patterns can be developed.
Predominant human modes of encoding/recording/storing information – specifically, disembodied/static literal script (i.e. written language) and its paradigm of sequential/serial structure – seem rather crude/inefficient/impeding (but naturally, this depends upon the objectives of the author/reader). Hypertext helps, but there is opportunity for much more. Rather than trace an author’s peculiar history/trajectory through information space (held captive as it were, led along a prescribed path), an author can instead provide a system of coordinates such that a reader can wander at will, led by her/his/its own peculiar interest/experience/perception.
Information structure can be created in a way which resembles a virtual seed: a compact/responsive/dynamic/functional system with various input parameters/conditions/filters which correspond to specific output. Each specific tree can be extrapolated/derived/located in the virtual forest-space of the seed.
Such structure is not an imposed external abstraction, or an empty rigid framework which accepts only specific data; rather, it is innate to the information in question, and naturally self-defining.
There is certainly opportunity for improvement in hardware, but software is much further behind, as it appears to me. Current hardware (though it has problems) is impressively potent; however, much of that potential remains essentially unrealised, squandered by pernicious paradigms and superfluous software. Why is our software dead? If we are to live with (rather than for) information technology, perhaps we should also make it live.
Computers exist to manipulate/store/retrieve data, to respond to input. In spite of this, it appears that data has become subordinate to the cult of the App. By contrast, systems like Unix offer an environment/workshop/laboratory with many simple/versatile/precise tools which can be used together in myriad combinations. We can make such tools more accessible/available by making them (and the environment in which they exist) more dynamic/responsive/interactive.
The nature of the data/input can inform the program, much like a river/stream shapes the matter through which it flows. Such a program naturally represents a common pattern of the data in question.
The Application Program can be replaced with a dynamic/adaptive environment/system of modules/channels/filters/buffers which serve the data/context in question.
The following brief descriptions address a few concrete examples of hardware/software projects.
A simple/portable/energy-efficient information storage/retrieval device seems so fundamentally useful, yet surprisingly absent. Generally, portable/handheld computers use too much energy and fail to deliver basic utility. The work – the potential utility – is often obscured/impaired by distraction to the technical specifications/features of the tool (e.g. an expensive/complex camera is not required to create a beautiful/useful photograph).
By directing attention toward basic utility, it becomes evident that some simple and fundamental applications of such a device have been neglected. We have solar-powered calculators, but where are their progeny: the dictionaries/encyclopædias/notebooks/sketchpads and other such basic resources/tools?
Imagine a minimal photovoltaic-powered device specifically designed/optimised for low power dissipation and efficient operation within a limited scope of basic storage/retrieval (minimal computation): keyboard, persistent non-transmissive display, persistent solid-state memory, standard network and I/O connectors. Batteries can be used to supply power when light is insufficient but power consumption ought to remain as low as possible (at least enough to operate indefinitely during average daylight luminosity at 60° from the equator).
The common keyboard (whatever its layout: QWERTY or Dvorak or …) is not a good fit for human hands. The arrangement of keys/sensors should reflect the kinesiology of hands (specifically, those of its primary user). The keyboard can also be like a musical instrument: with sensitivity, precision, and many different modes of input/interaction (which remain useful even in the presence of a perfect dictation system).
It can be useful to identify a high-level symbol set representing common patterns/abstractions/actions/things, to simplify information representation and to reduce the quantity of keystrokes/symbols required to produce a given result. Our basic character/symbol sets can be augmented with layers of increasing abstraction.
The atomic characters of which we compose our words can be extended; e.g. such common/useful words as «person» and «communicate» can each be understood as a unit entity, addressable by a single symbol/keystroke in addition to its sequence of constituent characters. Such extension can provide much utility without adopting the burden of parsing ambiguous language.
The common GUI (WIMP implemented in Macintosh, X11, Windows, &c.): an ironic distraction/impediment of superfluous/grotesque/wasteful interface elements which call attention to themselves, away from the very data/input for which they ostensibly exist to serve.
The CLI implemented in Unix, &c. is impressively/beautifully potent/useful but abstruse/complicated and deficient in presentation (as the limits of hardware at the time of its inception continue to constrain its present form).
I see much opportunity to develop an interface which is at once both text-based and graphical, in similarity to a well-formed page which combines raw text and images and numerical data with natural visual/spatial patterns/geometry to maximise meaning and minimise the burden of reading.
See typographic interface for more detail.
Assuming sufficiently compact and inexpensive sensor technology, I imagine there is enough individual interest to sustain the development of a distributed peer-to-peer weather data network. By contrast, most publicly available weather data is acquired from a few centralised weather stations (airports, observatories, &c.). There is much to be gained from a distributed peer-to-peer network in which the quantity and location of data sources generally reflects the population density and distribution. Accuracy is naturally achieved by redundancy, and the inherently increased geographical resolution/distribution is clearly useful.
The visualisation/representation/composition/manipulation of music/sound data can benefit by using a state space in which the various dimensions of interest intersect the data. A basic 3D music space (link: music_space.pdf) provides an address space in which specific (harmonic/melodic/rhythmic) domains can be isolated/filtered by viewing the data orthogonally along one of its respective dimensions (time/amplitude/frequency). The data effectively remains untouched, while the space/perspective simply rotates instead. (Such multidimensional modelling is of course also useful for the representation/manipulation of many other kinds of data.)
I see much potential to develop improved waveform editors and new systems of musical notation. It seems unnecessary that an audio waveform and its associated (European) musical notation are so distinctly different. A waveform can be variously filtered/abstracted to reduce complexity and emphasise specific patterns, effectively serving the same purpose as common notation (and all the rest in between).
Illustration: harmonic series (link: harmonic_series.pdf).
Thanks for reading. My meaning remains available (by these textual coordinates) – there to be seen – though the objects addressed are complex, and their detail is not explicitly expressed in this form. In any case, I can expand on these things in dialogue.
Enquiry/comment/criticism/communication is always welcome: help!
My gratitude to the late Bjarne Nyquist who inspired this document. He worked at The Interactive Institute and wanted to know more about how we might work together but he died before I returned to see him again.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.
Essentially, this «copyleft» licence means that the information in question can be used freely with the exception that any derivative works must also remain freely available.
I choose to use this licence because (in spite of various and sometimes quite deplorable GNU software-related travesties…) I appreciate the work of rms & al. in developing software/information freedom.