This is where I introduce myself. Graduate student, computer science. Originally from Europe. Bachelors degree from the University of Edinburgh. Working on Twitter, data-mining, and visualization. 24, so not actually that old, and what I’m going to be talking about are for the most part developments that have happened in my lifetime. I really want to give a sense of how fast technology is evolving, and how exciting it is to be a part of that.
My talk has three themes. The first is art – and the way technology enables different ways of creation and distribution. The second is life – the way technology has changed our lives unrecognizably in the very recent history. The final theme is programming, and this links the first two together because I think programming is central to the changes we’re experiencing. Programmers can be artists, and artists can be programmers. Programmers create tools that enter into our lexicon and soon we can’t imagine living without. Whilst computers and technology are a part of everything I’ll talk about, what’s more interesting is the human capacity for innovation and our reaction to change.
Picture taken by my at the Museum of Science and Technology in Tokyo, Japan
Do you want to change the world? There are many ways you could potentially do that, over the course of my lifetime humanity will likely face many problems with the environment and global warming. Some countries and states may end up underwater, whereas others may have potentially catastrophic shortages of drinking water. We face many issues of global health, such as AIDS and Cancer. The obesity problem in the US is a potential time-bomb, as are the aging populations in the west.
I think that technology will be key to solving the great problems that humanity is facing. I think programmers will be a central part of the solution. So if you want to change the world, programming is potentially a great choice for you.
However, every day peoples lives are made easier, and more productive, through the use of applications that make our lives easier by enabling us to be better organized, or automating boring tasks. Every day, we use things that renders our lives different because someone, or a group of someones, wrote some code to make that happen. Even if we don’t aspire to change the world on a macro scale, we can make change on the micro scale.
Of course, sometimes programmers write horribly unusable applications and make change for the worse. So we should be aware of that too.
What do programmers look like? They have poor hygiene and too much facial hair, and prone to living in basements? There’s a stereotype about programmers, and yes some are like that, but it’s definitely not true of me and, trust me, these attributes are not a requirement for a successful programmer.
Do you like math? Do you like solving problems? Do you like being creative and making stuff that’s visually appealing?
These are things that programmers do. No darkened basement required.
This woman doesn’t look at all like the stereotype we were talking about before, and she was the first ever programmer! Her name was Ada Lovelace, and she was British, and lived between 1815 and 1852. She wrote the first ever program, for a computer (designed by Charles Babbage) that did not yet exist.
Bill Gates was a programmer with a mission – a computer in every home. In the West, he’s very nearly achieved that – an amazing contribution to humanity.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google with a goal – to organize the world’s information. Google has been around for a little over 10 years, and has succeeded in organizing the web – but that is just the beginning. It’s difficult to imagine the web pre-Google. I remember it being a lot harder to find things.
Even if you don’t use Facebook, can you imagine keeping in touch with your friends in other way than digitally? Waiting weeks for letters to cross continents?
Services like Facebook have made “ambient awareness” a normal part of life. They’ve revolutionized the way we keep in touch. It’s actually quite incredible.
Programming skills are another tool that we can use to build things, bridge gaps. Programming is also another medium for expression.