why all this is important
“Software is eating the world” is Marc Andreesen’s famous war cry, but I prefer Cory Doctrow’s less aggressive and more poetic phrasing: we all live in a “computer-embroidered reality.”
Computers are everywhere. They run all our financial transactions, intermediate our interpersonal communication, they are part of everything from farm equipment to fine art. Cars are increasingly computers with wheels. Humans have no hands-on control of takeoff and landing of our most advanced spacefaring rockets. A tiny computer runs the medical device that keeps millions of people’s hearts beating moment to moment.
And I suspect that we’re far from peak computing. It’s hard to say being in the midst of it, but I find it plausible that the Information Age will be a species-level shift on par with the Industrial Revolution.
How computers work now and how they might work in the future is thus a high-impact question. That’s why I’ve devoted my career to working on making computing better.
What do I mean by “better”?
Computing aids and encourages humanity’s noblest pursuits: science, reason, art, philosophy.
Computing directly supports improving the mental health, physical health, prosperity, and happiness of all humans.
Computing help us master (or at least, doesn’t intensify) our problematic tendencies: addiction, status anxiety, socioeconomic divisions, tribalism, fear, hate.
The economic and intellectual horsepower in Silicon Valley and the wider tech world seems to be pointed away from these goals. For example: algorithms designed to maximize watch time, the social media outrage machine, loot boxes and other psuedo-gambling, and smartphone notifications activating Skinner-box tendencies.
My hunch is that we’re still in the midst of figuring out what ubiquitous globally-connected computing can do. So the precedent we set now may have huge impacts 50 or 100 years down the line.
What follows are six areas where I am investing my career and financial capital to make computers better. I share them to strengthen my own resolve, but also in hopes that you and others might join me in this spiritual quest.