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    Thinking in Progress  • • •

    The need for art

    From How I approach my core work:

    As a kid, I found two things that were pure magic to me: computers and music.

    They held so much potential for expression and ideas, and so much potential for making life great.

    Music never disappoints.

    But computers do.

    Computers simultaneously mesmerize and disappoint me. I think this is why computer science is ultimately the field I went into. Lots of things fascinate me, and lots of things disappoint me. But it’s computers that do both. They harbor so much potential, yet so often they fulfill very little of it.

    I enjoy working in both art and technology, and regularly find their intersection to contain interesting insights.


    The deeper I get into research on the future of personal computing, the more convinced I become of the need for art in society.

    Great tech amplifies human capability.

    But it amplifies everything — the good, and the bad. We’ve seen this play out for years.

    On the other hand, great art (such as music) causes us to introspect, understand, and empathize. It’s biased towards amplifying the best of humanity.

    Where is the art in tech? Where is tech biased towards the good? Where is tech more than just a tool that amplifies human ability? There are some specific, delightful counter-examples.


    Another contrast:

    Software depreciates, art appreciates.

    A book or a record, for example, appreciates with time; it becomes more valuable, not less. It does not require constant maintenance and upkeep just to keep it from dipping below some bar of quality. Once the book is printed, it might exist for hundreds of years. Same with a movie: generations after yours might enjoy it. But software? Code written today may be obselete in just a few years, even with ongoing maintenance.

    This isn’t to discredit software or building it — it’s what I do for a living! Software allows us to do some wonderful things. But it’s important in my own practice to understand the true impact of the things we build. These contrasts beg for some questions that haven’t been asked nearly enough in building some of the software used globally today.


    Where is the creative process, working like an artist, practiced in software creation?

    Understanding the process of making art is also largely missing and needed in the study of making tomorrow’s technology. Richard Hamming introduces this a bit in his book The Art of Doing Science and Engineering, when he discusses how he’d classify software development as art, since two developers with the same goal would create entirely different solutions, likening this to what you would expect from art, rather than science, where the result should largely look the same.

    Through their work, every artist grows to understand how inspiration for novel work happens (even if part of that understanding is knowing that some of it cannot be understood). Inspiration for novel work is also equally critical to the best leaps forward in technology, yet understanding how it happens is often missing from the software developer’s study of their own practice.


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