(2017-12-30) Victor Alan Kay R And D Emails

Bret Victor quotes Some excerpts from recent Alan Kay emails

Most of the funding of research (R and D) efforts I've been involved in since ARPA-Parc have been with various profit making companies -- Atari, Apple, Disney, HP, SAP, Infosys, etc. And there have been various kinds of compromises involved. And some good work on smaller scales did get done

These same people with the same big ideas, talents, more skills and knowledge, and energies, were not able to muster the critical masses of "psychic resources" that are needed to get to the "other worlds" places that were routinely the province of the smaller but "felicitous" and longer range resources of ARPA-Parc.

Bell Labs is a great alternate example. Before the divestiture it was a fountain of qualitative advances -- afterwards, it couldn't get out of its own way -- most of the good people were still there, but the management contexts changed

there's no question that Parc would have failed if Bob Taylor hadn't forced Xerox to sign a legal agreement that they had to keep their hands completely off -- in all ways -- whatever we decided to do for the first 5 years.

As I tried to explain in the two Stanford Lectures I did for Sam Altman's "Startup School", the "dynamics of the qualitative" and the "dynamics of the trillions rather than the billions" are completely different from the dynamics of startups, and especially for the majority that are incremental

The "zeitgeist" of ARPA-Parc stretches back to the WWII musterings of scientists and engineers, much of it fostered by Vannevar Bush. One of the things they learned how to do was to "do Art at scale". The ARPA funding by JCR Licklider starting in 1962 carried that context forward into computing, and the results speak for themselves. It's not that it is the only way to do things -- but it is at present the only way known that produces the big results

The points of agreement were on a "vision of desired future states", not goals or routes

my conclusion is that "it is delicate". An important part of any art is for the artists to escape the "part of the present that is the past", and for most artists, this is delicate because the present is so everywhere and loud and interruptive

An example of the vision was Licklider's "The destiny of computers is to become interactive intellectual amplifiers for all humans, pervasively networked world-wide". This vision does not state what the amplification is like or how you might be able to network everyone in the world

One way to characterize this in modern terms is that the golden age funding was like "MacArthur Grants for groups".

Really fundamental inventions are too large for single human organizations to deal with -- what one wants is a reasonable balance between what is freely shared, and how things can be made from them.

Douglas Engelbart couldn't get funding from the very people who made fortunes from his inventions.

The most important difference between the "Golden Age" funders and those of today, is that the former didn't confuse responsibility with control -- they were responsible but they knew that the researchers had to control the choice of projects and methods

The "Golden Age" funders "funded people, not projects".


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