Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bicycles for the Mind

I am working on a Mac right now. I am not certain that I would describe it as a bicycle for my mind, so much as a mental giant robotic exoskeleton like in Gundam Wing. The power multiplication that a computer provides is far beyond what we hoped in the early days of computing, due in no small part to the internet.

In this segment, as Jobs sort of muses about the limitations of humans, and how the computer helps free us from these limitations, I am struck by his graph of animal speeds. It reminds me how novel it was to be able to graph something back in the early '80s without having to get out graph paper and a ruler. Just a decade earlier, there were not even pocket calculators. (Calculators must be skateboards, and slide rules pogo sticks, for the mind, to torture a metaphor.)

The power to analyze, and plot, and massage data has grown exponentially since those early, naive days. With a few mouse clicks, I can solve problems that would have once taken hours to write down properly. I can calculate the structures of molecules, the behavior of transistors, the flow of heat, and the extent and shape of magnetic fields, and plot all this in 2 or 3 dimensions, in full color, animated, all before lunch. And I can access data and algorithms from literally every corner of the world at any time of day. Plotting a handful of points seems sort of precious by comparison. Nevertheless, Steve Jobs was right in thinking that this sort of thing would change the world.

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