Bootstrapping to Augmented Intellect


This is an initial draft of a project proposal. Please do not re-distribute it without the permission of Touch Pu'uhonua. I'm making it available to you because I would like your feedback and perhaps your further participation if the project catches your interest. My contact information is at the bottom. Thanks - _Touch.

The Dream of Augmented Intellect

Douglas Engelbart is one of the greatest of the early computer pioneers. He was one of the first to realize that with a good human-computer interface a human and a computer together can be much smarter than either are alone. He also realized that when you network the computers you have the potential to make a group of people collectively smarter, capable of solving challenging problems beyond the reach of unaugmented groups of human beings. Doug Engelbart realized that this was important, this was something which the world needed desperately. Unfortunately, it was the 1950s and people were only using computers in isolation as glorified calculators. He found a few people who could understand his vision and proceeded to invent the mouse, hypertext, networked computers and a precursor of today's Graphical User Interface.

Doug Engelbart succeeded in all of his goals, but it was too early for his inventions to change the world. Computers were too expensive, computer networks were in their infancy. By the time technology was ready, people had mostly forgotten what had been done, the computers and software platforms his system was built on were no longer available and the work was tied up in intellectual property restrictions. As a result, today's computer systems fall far short of the practical capabilities Doug Engelbart and his team created 50 years ago. The project I'm proposing here is the updating and fulfillment of Doug Engelbart's work. You might want to read more about him, starting with Wikipedia, as background for my proposal. By the way, Doug Engelbart called his vision Augmentation of Intellect, and he called the system he created Augment (officially NLS). I'll refer to his system as Early Augment and his team as the Early Augment Team.

Pulling Ourselves Up By Our Bootstraps

How do you go about building a set of computer software tools which make you and your colleagues smarter? Doug Engelbart figured that out too. You use a technique called Bootstrapping, otherwise known as recursive self-improvement. It works like this: Working with a team, you find, adapt and/or create an initial set of tools which augment your ability to create software toolsets for augmented intellect, i.e. which increase your ability to do this kind of work. Using this new set of tools, you do it again, but more easily, creating a newer, better toolset. As you and your team continue in this fashion, refining and upgrading your augmented intellect toolset for the construction of augmented intellect toolsets you find yourself getting smarter, more capable. Team communication and coordination become better, more effective. Challenging problems are solved faster, with less drudgery and more fun. And despite the fact that the official focus of your toolset is on improving the toolset, you discover that you can solve all kinds of other problems with the same kit. In the bootstrapping metaphor, you and your team have been pulling yourselves up by your bootstraps and now you're flying!

The Hard Work Has Already Been Done

Unlike Doug Engelbart's situation in the 1950's and 1960's, computers of enormous power are readily available and affordable. Desktops, tablets and smart-phones all have powerful graphical user interfaces. Everything is connected to the high-speed worldwide Internet - the network of all networks. These systems have more than enough raw power and capacity to run Augment software. No hardware development is required.

Also unlike Doug Engelbart's situation, we now have very productive operating systems along with extensive and capable libraries of software able to solve most of the really difficult algorithmic problems that the Early Augment Team had to solve. In fact, we have Free/Libre Open Source solutions to most of the Early Augment problems. Building a powerful Augment toolkit today is more a matter of sifting out the needed components and composing them properly than it is a matter of wholesale invention and development.

The Enemies of Augment

Many computer software systems today are better than anything which has gone before, yet I also claim that a number of systems in the past were much better than anything that exists today. This has been well documented by Alan Kay, another great computer pioneer. Alan is the guy who conceived the Personal Computer and invented it with his team at Xerox PARC in the 1970's. At some point I intend to write up my experiences with some of the earlier great systems, but in the meantime I'll point you to Alan and ask that you believe your Elders here! [that's a joke]

OK, so Why aren't our modern systems better at individual and collaborative Augmentation of Intellect than systems of the past? How could they possibly be worse? They should actually be much better! It turns out that although the raw capacity of a computer system is very helpful in solving problems, it is no match for the Enemies of Augment. Some of the key enemies are

I will describe these enemies further in another document. Once you realize the nature of these Enemies of Augment you will see that they can all be overcome. That's what this modern Bootstrapping Augment project is all about.

The Nature of the Work

What will it be like working on this particular Augment project? Here are some of the qualities which I anticipate:

The work will begin by collecting together a set of core software, intellectual and philosophical tools to create the initial toolkit. Those who have experience with the necessarily technologies will be available as leaders, facilitators and/or mentors to assist the whole team becoming adept with the initial toolkit. Some of the key initial software is still under construction e.g. the Wicci Framework and team members with the right skills and interests will assist in quickly completing that. Using the initial toolkit we will build some collaborative systems which are better in some important respects than what exists anywhere else in the world.

The initial team will need to be fairly small, under 20 people, and most of them will initially need to live in San Diego County. As the collaborative tools become available it will be possible to include a larger number of people and a more geographically dispersed network of people. Initially the team will mostly be focused on a few short-term goals. Later the network of Augment users will be working on wildly diverse projects - many of which are quite unforeseeable now.

The initial work will involve working directly with some low level languages, paradigms and processes. These include shell scripting, low-level procedural coding, SQL, HTML, CSS and JavaScript with most of the work being done with text editors. A lot of early work will involve debugging and unit testing. Later, much of this work will move to high level declarative code living in collaborative Wicci code stores mostly managed by smart tools. How soon will things get better? As Richard Stallman likes to say: Sooner, if you help! My hope is that we'll see major improvements within a few months. I expect that the pace of improvement will follow an exponential growth curve - by design.

How to contact me

Use the handy Pu'uhonua Contact Page

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