TITLE: Computing Something of Consequence AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 01, 2009 9:51 PM DESC: ----- BODY: My daughter sent me a link to Pranav Mistry's TED India talk, which has apparently been making the rounds among media-savvy high school students and teachers. In it, Mistry demonstrates some very cool technology that blurs the boundary between human experience in the world and human experience mediated by a computer. The kids and teachers turned on by the video are all media-savvy, many are tech-savvy, but few are what we would consider computer science-style techies. They are so excited by Mistry's devices because these devices amplify what humans can do and create qualitatively different kinds of experience. I loved Mistry's own way of accounting for the excitement his technology causes in people who see and experience it:
We humans actually are not interested in computing. What we are interested in is information. We want to know about things.
Spot on. People want to use computers to compute something of consequence. This is true of most non-techies, but I think it's also true of people who are inclined to study computer science. This is one of the key insights behind Astrachan's Law and its corollary, the Pixar Effect. Students want to do something worth doing. Programming with data and algorithms that are interesting enough to challenge students' expectations can be enough to satisfy these laws, but I have to admit that when we hook our programs up to devices that mediate between the world and our human experience -- wow, amazing things can happen. If nothing else, Mistry's video has raised the bar on what my daughter would like for a Christmas present. I'll have to send him a thank-you note... -----