Welcome to the Future

My name is Michael Littman.  I’m a computer scientist at Brown University and I’ve had the privilege to work with a team of creative and energetic people at Rutgers University on a project we call “Scratchable Devices”.  Welcome to our blog!

The aspiration of the “Scratchable Devices” team is to help move us to a future in which end-user programming is commonplace.  The short version of the pitch goes like this.  We are all surrounded by computers—more and more of the devices we interact with on a daily basis are general purpose CPUs in disguise.  The marvelous thing about these machines is that they can carry out activities on our behalf: activities that we are too inaccurate or slow or fragile or inconsistent or frankly important to do for ourselves.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to speak to these machines  And, even those of us who do are usually barred from doing so by device interfaces that are intended to be friendly but in fact tie our hands.

We seem to be on the verge of an explosion of new opportunities.  There are new software systems being created, more ways to teach people about programming, and many many more new devices that we wish we could talk to in a systematic way.  The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of developments, both new and old, that bear on the question of end-user programming.  I welcome email from interested readers who have spotted something cool (mlittman@cs.brown.edu), although I don’t claim to be able to present anything more or less than my own personal take on what I read.

In the days to come, I will sift through my backlog of interesting tidbits and then maybe we’ll be in a good position to start figuring out what the future could look like.

 

2 thoughts on “Welcome to the Future

  1. mlittman Post author

    Comment received by email from Internet search pioneer Apostolos Gerosoulis:

    Very interesting idea. Being able to adjust and program devices is the future. However, what I learned from search engines—and, of course, from the master Steve Jobs—simplicity is the key. Especially in consumer products since you are dealing with large differences in knowledge. This insight implies that machine learning can play an important role to create that simplicity—not the language per se. Here is an example.

    For a long time programmable thermostats existed but I bet very few people know how to use them. Now here comes NEST http://www.nest.com/ that move lots of programability into learning and create simplicity at the front end (I will order one of these to see how it works). I see this as the future direction—extremely simple interface (simplest possible programing at the front) and smartness as the back end.

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