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Instadeq Reading List: April 2021

Here is a list of content we found interesting this month.

If it stays long we will move to once a week.

๐Ÿ’พ Computers and Creativity

I will be arguing that to foster optimal human innovation, digital creative tools need to be interoperable, moldable, efficient, and community-driven.

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Acknowledging that computers themselves are not inherently creative should not come as a surprise. Instead, this truth identifies an opportunity for computers to more fully assume the role of co-creator โ€” not idea-generator, but actualizer.

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Intelligence Augmentation (IA), is all about empowering humans with tools that make them more capable and more intelligent, while Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been about removing humans fully from the loop

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The lack of interoperability between creative tools means that all work created within a tool is confined to the limitations of that tool itself, posing a hindrance to collaboration and limiting creative possibility

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Moving beyond building on top of existing software, we can begin to imagine what a piece of software could look like if it itself was moldable, or built to be modified by the user

๐Ÿง  Thought as a Technology

At first these elements seem strange. But as they become familiar, you internalize the elements of this world. Eventually, you become fluent, discovering powerful and surprising idioms, emergent patterns hidden within the interface. You begin to think with the interface, learning patterns of thought that would formerly have seemed strange, but which become second nature. The interface begins to disappear, becoming part of your consciousness

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What makes an interface transformational is when it introduces new elements of cognition that enable new modes of thought. More concretely, such an interface makes it easy to have insights or make discoveries that were formerly difficult or impossible

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Mathematicians often don't think about mathematical objects using the conventional representations found in books. Rather, they rely heavily on what we might call hidden representations

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This contrasts with the approach in most computer reasoning systems. For instance, much work on doing mathematics by computer has focused on automating symbolic computation (e.g., Mathematica), or on finding rigorous mathematical proofs (e.g., Coq). In both cases, the focus is on correct mathematical reasoning. Yet in creative work the supply of rigorously correct proofs is merely the last (and often least interesting) stage of the process. The majority of the creative process is instead concerned with rapid exploration relying more on heuristics and rules of thumb than on rigorous proof. We may call this the logic of heuristic discovery. Developing such a logic is essential to building exploratory interfaces.

๐ŸŒฑ Personal Digital Habitats

A Personal Digital Habitat is a federated multi-device information environment within which a person routinely dwells. It is associated with a personal identity and encompasses all the digital artifacts (information, data, applications, etc.) that the person owns or routinely accesses. A PDH overlays all of a personโ€™s devices1 and they will generally think about their digital artifacts in terms of common abstractions supported by the PDH rather than device- or silo-specific abstractions. But presentation and interaction techniques may vary to accommodate the physical characteristics of individual devices.

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Personal Digital Habitat is an aspirational metaphor. Such metaphors have had an important role in the evolution of our computing systems. In the 1980s and 90s it was the metaphor of a virtual desktop with direct manipulation of icons corresponding to metaphorical digital artifacts that made personal computers usable by a majority of humanity.

๐Ÿ›๏ธ DynamicLand Narrative

The mission of the Dynamicland Foundation is to enable universal literacy in a humane computational medium.

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Instead of isolating and disembodying, it must bring communities together in the same physical space, to teach and discuss ideas face-to-face, to build and explore ideas with their hands, to solve problems collectively and democratically. For universal literacy, and for a humane medium, these are requirements.

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Dynamicland researchers are inventing a new form of computing which takes place in physical space, using ordinary physical materials such as paper, pens, cardboard, and clay. There are no screens and no apps. Instead, people craft computational activities together with their hands

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Unlike isolated apps, these projects all exist in the same space, can all be interconnected with one another, and can all be used by many people together

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Dynamicland is particularly interested in its potential for public spaces in which people seek to understand and communicate โ€” libraries, museums, classrooms, arts spaces, town halls, courtrooms.

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The Dynamicland researchers are not developing a product. The computers that the researchers build are models: not for distribution, but for studying and evaluating

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This community space is an early model for a new kind of civic institution โ€” a public library for 21st-century literacy. Dynamicland envisions a future where every town has a โ€œdynamic libraryโ€ with computational literature on every subject, where people gather to collectively author and explore this literature, using the medium to represent and debate their ideas using computational models. People will hold presentations and town-hall discussions on issues of importance to the community, using the medium to see facts, explore consequences of proposals, and make data-driven decisions collectively. The public benefit of transforming collective learning and civic engagement is potentially immeasurable.

๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿ’ผ Office, messaging and verbs

The way forward for productivity is probably not to take software applications and document models that were conceived and built in a non-networked age and put them into the cloud

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It takes time, but sooner or later we stop replicating the old methods with the new tools and find new methods to fit the new tools

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What kills that task is not better or cheaper (or worse and free) spreadsheet or presentation software, but a completely different way to address the same underlying need - a different mechanism

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But it should be replaced by a SaaS dashboard with realtime data, alerts for unexpected changes and a chat channel or Slack integration. PowerPoint gets killed by things that aren't presentations at all

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You don't actually send email or make a spreadsheet - you analyze, delegate, report, confer, decide, track and so on. Or, perhaps, 'what's going on, what are we doing and what should we be doing?

๐Ÿง‘โ€๐ŸŽจ Software designers, not engineers An interview from alternative universe

In my universe, we treat the creation of software as a design activity, putting it as a third item on the same level as science and art.

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when we start a software project, we think of it in more general terms. A typical form of what you call specification in our world is a bit more like a design brief. A much more space is dedicated to the context in which the work is happening, the problem that you are trying to solve and constraints that you are facing, but design briefs say very little about any specific potential software solution to the problem.

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When you're solving a problem, even as you get to a more technical level, you always keep in mind why you are solving it.

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The problem really only becomes apparent as you try to solve it. So, the key thing is to quickly iterate. You come up with a new framing for the problem, sketch a solution based on your framing and see what it looks like. If it looks good to you, you show it to the customer, or you sketch a range of different prototypes.

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Software sketches are very ambiguous. When you are sketching, you are omitting a lot of details and so the sketching tool will give you something that can behave in unexpected ways in certain situations.

This is actually quite valuable, because this ambiguity allows your ideas to evolve. You can often learn quite a lot about the problem from the things that are underspecified in your sketches.

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Very often, the right problem framing makes it possible to see a problem in a new way

โญ• Our Brain Typically Overlooks This Brilliant Problem-Solving Strategy

People often limit their creativity by continually adding new features to a design rather than removing existing ones

๐Ÿ› ๏ธ The state of internal tools in 2021

Developers spend more than 30% of their time building internal applications.

That number jumps to 45% for companies with 5000+ employees.

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More than 57% of companies reported at least one full-time employee dedicated to internal tools.

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77% of companies with 500+ employees have dedicated teams for building and maintaining internal apps

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2 out of 3 developers default to building from scratch, as opposed to using a spreadsheet or a SaaS tool.

๐Ÿ•น๏ธ Serious Play

Games remain the most underrated and underexplored medium of art ever conceived by humans

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Video games are right now shaping the patterns that will define the next generation of Design. Many of the hot topics in tech today like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and remote collaboration have been brewing in video games for decades

โ™พ๏ธ Systems design explains the world

What is systems design? It's the thing that will eventually kill your project if you do it wrong, but probably not right away. It's macroeconomics instead of microeconomics.

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Most of all, systems design is invisible to people who don't know how to look for it

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With systems design, the key insight might be a one-sentence explanation given at the right time to the right person, that affects the next 5 years of work

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What makes the Innovator's Dilemma so beautiful, from a systems design point of view, is the "dilemma" part. The dilemma comes from the fact that all large companies are heavily optimized to discard ideas that aren't as profitable as their existing core business