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4.25: Third Vision: Macintosh

The psychology of teaching was described above as the optimal orchestration of outside-in learning with inside-out growing. The first vision of computers in education described above, based on a dumb terminal used to search databases in large computers, is too outside-in. The second vision based on an Apple II plus, loaded with the Logo language, used to discover how certain aspects of the world works by exploring microworlds, is too inside-out. The third vision described below is an attempt to find that optimal orchestration of inside-out growing and outside-in learning.

This third vision is based on a colleague of mine - the Apple Macintosh Plus which I had slung over my back in its Mac Pac on my way to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, as described in the Preface. You are invited to attend the presentation at the hotel and to imagine the actions (described in brackets).

I'd like to introduce you to a colleague of mine. He lives here in the Mac Pac.

[Show Mac pac, open it, and pull out main unit - "Take a bow, Macintosh"]

First, you plug him in - just like any other household appliance. However, unlike other household appliances, you can talk to this one. Of course, you can also talk to your microwave oven and to your vacuum cleaner - but you will feel a bit bizarre and you won't get an answer.

[Pull out cord and plug Macintosh in]

In ye olden days (that is, until a few years ago), you talked to a computer using a keyboard.

[Show keyboard and plug it into main unit]

Now, you talk to Macintosh using a mouse. The mouse leap-frogs the keyboard.

[Show mouse, have mouse leap-frog keyboard, and plug mouse's tail into mouse hole at back of Mac]

Any advance in Macintosh over previous computers is a result , not of anything within the computer (I opened it up and found it almost empty) but in the relationship between the computer and the user. It is like improving your ax by getting a new handle rather than by getting a new head. The screen simulates your desk. On the screen, you have icons representing the various things you may have on your desk. The movement of the mouse on your desk controls the movement of an arrow on the screen so that you can point to what you want. You can pull down menus from the top of the screen and tell Macintosh what to do by pressing a button on the top of the mouse. Thus, if you can point and press, you can use the Macintosh.

The only reason I used the brand name Macintosh is because it was the first computer which had the courtesy to talk to me in my person language rather than insist that I talk to it in its machine language. As the other computers catch up, we will no more use brand names for computers than we do for television sets. We will talk about the software programs rather than the hardware computers to run them on. That is, we will say that we watched Dallas or Fifth Estate rather than we watched our Sony or Victor.

So far, we just have a very expensive piece of sculptor. As one person said, "with a suitable appendix, you could use that thing as a pencil-sharpener ". So far, we just have hardware, which is useless without software.

[Hold up box of software ]

Macintosh is the first generalist machine. As you put in each piece of software, he becomes a different specialist, as indicated in Figure 4-3 on the following page. The rest of the presentation was a systematic exploration of those various basic categories of software.

The most interesting software programs are those which do not fit within this format. They are not simply ways of doing - electronically - what has been done before. They allow us to do something which we could not do before - something which I believe is essentially new. Let us consider two such software programs which fall under the rubric of "idea-processors".

Writers, badgered by would-be writers for their "secret", are often tempted to say "Writing is easy - you just get a whole bunch of words (look in a dictionary and you'll find thousands of them) and then decide what order to put them in." If this were all that writing involved there would be no need for anything beyond a word-processing program. MacWrite is very good for putting words on paper and rearranging them.

However, writing is merely the superficial product of a process of thinking. Underlying the sequential string of words, of which any presentation or publication consists, there is a hierarchical structure. It is this underlying structure which makes certain strings of words meaningful and other strings meaningless. Writing involves a constant oscillation back and forth between the surface sequence of words (the string) and the deep hierarchy underlying it (the outline). Idea-processors, like Think Tank and Factfinder, allow us to do this. Some people prefer moving from the top down - that is from the outline to the string, and some people prefer moving from the bottom up - that is from the string to the outline. The former group will probably prefer to use Think Tank, whereas the latter group will probably prefer to use Factfinder.

Allow me to suggest four options:

(a) You use neither Think Tank nor Factfinder.
(b) You use Think Tank alone.
(c) You use Factfinder alone.
(d) You use both Think Tank and Factfinder.
(a) Neither Think Tank nor Factfinder

In our enthusiasm for those wonderful new tools, we must accept the possibility that some people will choose to use neither Think Tank nor Factfinder. Much good writing was done before the dawning of idea-processing or, even, before word-processing. William Shakespeare did okay without an Apple Macintosh or even an IBM Personal Computer. It is important that we do not become dependent on them. Some silly statements are being made about not being able to type or write any more. (I often consider the "neither -- nor" option myself - roughly each time I get the "Serious System Error" message, with that ominous time-bomb like an expensive apple about to explode.)

(b) Think Tank alone

Think Tank is essentially an outliner. It facilities the process of writing an outline, which will serve as a framework for the document. Or, to use the terms above, it helps build that hierarchical structure which underlies the sequential string.

When we were taught to write in elementary school, we were usually told to begin by writing an outline. Who among us has not suffered the agony of blank mind confronting blank sheet? If your mind is still blank, Think Tank will not help. The problem simply shifts to its modern form of blank mind confronting blank screen. (This is even worse, since there is a blinking cursor nagging you to start and a low hum reminding you that you are wasting electricity. The piece of paper at least had the decency just to lie there and mind its own business.)

However, it does help you get over a second schoolmarm principle of writing - you begin at the beginning. (Those two principles together largely account for the fact that most of our writing careers end in elementary school.) You can begin anywhere. Just write stream-of-consciously any topic which occurs to you, as you contemplate the subject of your paper. Later you can juggle the various topics up and down the page and from left to right on the page. Up and down the page as the appropriate sequence of ideas emerges, and left and right on the page as the hierarchy emerges and certain ideas are clearly seen as sub-headings under headings, which fall, in turn, under super-headings.

(c) Factfinder alone

The traditional school-teacher of the future will no doubt insist that you start with Think Tank. In a short article like this, it is probably easier to do so, since the structure of such a short article is usually clear almost from the beginning. However, if you are writing a book, you may find it easier to start with Factfinder. One of the reasons it is so difficult to start by writing an outline is that the outline only emerges after you have thought about the topic for some time. When my editor asks What book are you writing for me now?, I often find myself saying It hasn't told me yet!

Just as Think Tank is the electronic analog of writing an outline, Factfinder is the electronic analog of writing notes on 3x5 cards in preparing a term paper or class presentation in school. It is a sort of electronic desk drawer, into which you toss your notes, in any order and of any length. In the case of the physical desk drawer, we tend not to pull things back out, because mechanical retrieval is so cumbersome. (This applies even to the more sophisticated mechanical systems, with holes around the edges of the note-cards, so that they can be retrieved with a needle.) Factfinder allows you to easily retrieve "factsheets" from a "stack" (that is, notes from a pile) by assigning keywords to the factsheets as you enter them. Its function is nicely captured in the name of an alternative free-form database - It must be here somewhere.

Using Factfinder is like an individual brain-storming session. You simply let the ideas flow. When the flow stops, you give it a name, and start flowing again. When the stream of consciousness finally gets damned up, you leave it for a while. Carry around little note-books and jot ideas down as you fish in your stream-of-consciousness, throw them into a shoe-box, like you have always done. The difference is that now, when you empty that shoe-box, you shuffle the cards and write a stack of factsheets in your computer so that your ideas can be systematically retrieved.

(d) Both Think Tank and Factfinder

Some people will favor the use of Think Tank to process their ideas, whereas other people will favor the use of Factfinder. Typically, those who tend to think deductively - that is, from the general to the specific, from the top down or, in this context, from the outline to the stream, - will favor Think Tank; whereas those who tend to think inductively - that is, from the specific to the general, from the bottom up or, in this context, from the stream to the outline, - will favor Factfinder.

I find that I use both, since I am simultaneously moving up and down. Think Tank I tend to use for short pieces when the structure is clear and when I have a close deadline. Factfinder I tend to use for a longer paper or talk and when I have the leisure to let the ideas incubate. They allow me to be like an artist working on a large canvas - alternating between standing back to look at the big picture (using Think Tank) and moving in to work on some detail (using Factfinder).

Scott Fitzgerald, famous for his tight writing style, once wrote to Thomas Wolfe, famous for his slack writing style, "you are a putter-in and I am a taker-out." We are all, to different degrees, both putter-inners and taker-outers. Writing involves both adding words when necessary and taking words out when necessary. Think Tank is useful in the taking-out stage and Factfinder in the putting-in stage.

Creativity involves a subtle balance between flexibility and perseverance. We must be flexible but not flighty, persistant but not pig-headed. The combination of Factfinder and Think Tank helps us maintain that precarious balance. Factfinder helps us be flexible by allow us to flow freely, while Think Tank constraints us from being merely flighty by providing a disciplined structure for the flow.

The papers I write and the talks I give, written in this manner with Think Tank and Factfinder, become a sort of compost heap out of which grows further papers and talks. I enrich this compost heap from time to time by pouring in my favourite stories, images, sources, and so on. See Figure 4-4 for a list of the various databases, which together form my databank.

Macintosh gives us a first glimpse of the Fifth Generation computers mentioned in Section 2.12. Such computers will embody artificial intelligence.

Perhaps, the most interesting application of artificial intelligence is the development of expert systems. An expert system is software into which has been squeezed the expertise of various experts. Knowledge engineers squeeze the essence of the expert into such expert systems by having the expert articulate his/her set of empirical facts, theoretical structures, rules of thumb in conducting research, and translating those into programs in computer memory.

Such expert systems are already available, for diagnosing diseases, for checking soil samples for the presence of oil, and so on, and are already at least as expert as the experts from whom they were derived. The exciting possibility with fifth generation computers is that such expert systems will become generally available. Indeed, each of us could have an expert system of our own. That is, each of us could have an expert system which represents the squeezed-out essence of our own expertise. This is what I call the "silicon clone" or, for short, "siliclone".

Superficially, such a device would seem to be redundant. Why have a system embodying what you already know?

However, knowledge engineers find that experts often know but do not know that they know. Much of their knowledge is intuitive. The process of creating the expert system helps them know that they know.

We often find ourselves that we know but we do not know what we know. It took some time for me to realize that many of my previous life experiences were related to my current interest in artificial intelligence. Your siliclone will bring together in one place the various things you learn about a given topic over time.

We often know many things which ain't so. The process of putting our knowledge within a logical structure will alert us to various inconsistencies in our thinking and thus to items of misinformation.

We often know but do not understand. That is we have many pieces of information in a given area but do not have that coherent organized structure of knowledge which constitutes understanding. The systematic organization of what we know into an expert system may help us move gears up the hierarchy from data to information to knowledge to understanding and, perhaps, even to wisdom.18

So much for the process of creating such siliclones. However, of what use will be the product?

A first use of the product is as a satellite. Our minds tend to be cluttered with content. (I was embarrassed while playing Trivial Pursuits for the first time recently to find just how much clutter there is in there.) You can't see context clearly with all that content. This is why there are prodigies in music, mathematics, and chess. Context is important in those activities and the young are not yet cluttered with content. You can store content in your siliclone and leave to it the mechanical process of sifting through the content for the empirical information you may need in any given context.

You and your siliclone are partners. However, the siliclone is not a dumb partner as was Fast Eddy. It serves as a sort of satellite brain. As in any partnership, there is a division of labor. As in any division of labor, it is based on what you are good at. Macintosh is good at memorizing things. He loves lists. I try to be as listless as possible. It deals with content and you deal with context. In this way, you can focus on putting data in context to yield information, information in context to yield knowledge, knowledge in context to yield understanding, understanding in context to yield, God forbid, wisdom.

A less obvious use of the siliclone is as a surrogate. Kimon Valaskakis, the President of GAMMA, is in such demand that he must be in many places at once. I often then get to be a Kimon clone. Once he develops the Kimon siliclone on his Apple Macintosh, he can send it instead. (It would give a more faithful rendition of his answers to their questions than I - who tend to have ideas of my own.) Indeed, he can rent it out. The knowledge worker of the future may moonlight in various ways - hiring out his clone or providing a double bill of his clone and himself (I tried to be non-sexist but it got too complicated).

A special case of the use of the siliclone as a surrogate is to replace you when you die. Does anyone out there share my regret that my body is getting more and more decrepit while my mind is getting better and better informed? Soon my body will go and take my mind with it. It would be nice to salvage my mind as an expert system before my body becomes a handful of dust. This expert system does not serve simply as an electronic analog to a book. It bears a similar relationship to the book as a videodisc does to a videotape. That is, it contains a vast organized body of information which can be explored in an infinite number of ways. Perhaps this time I can really plan my obsolescence for good!

As I look at Macintosh sitting on my desk, I am sometimes awed by the fact that I have at my fingertips the computing power, which, fifteen years ago, would have been available only to multinational corporations for millions of dollars. I have been working on it, six to eight hours a day, for the last three years, However, in terms of my capacity to use its potential, I still feel like a five-year-old kid in the cockpit of a jet-plane (two years ago, I felt like a two-year-old kid but I thought I was on a tricycle).

Computers are moving from dull slaves to intelligent assistants. Perhaps each of us should go to the friendly corner neighbourhood computer store and hire one.




18   GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is a well-establishing aphorism in computer science. However, as we learn how to organize our bits and pieces of information into an expert system of ourselves, we may find GIGO begins to mean "Garbage In, Genius Out".