How Many People Does it Take to Change the World?

One interesting thing that happened last month was that I got to meet Alan Kay, one of the researchers at PARC that helped invent our modern conception of personal computing back in the 1970s. He said many things that struck me, but one stood out in particular, namely that it only took about 25 researchers at PARC to develop it all, from ethernet to GUIs, from Smalltalk to the laser printer. The key to it all, though, was having a shared vision that 25 really smart and independent people could agree on.

This is something I've noticed about the original Ubiquitous Computing project as well (also done at PARC), in that there was a grand shared vision that a lot of really smart people believed in and pushed for.

However, I'm not sure if this is something we could easily re-create today. It's hard enough to get 25 people to agree on anything, but there's also the funding issue, in that NSF can't fund projects that large and DARPA no longer will. I also don't think that this is something that could have happened in academia, since we're all fighting to establish our own independent identities and reputations. I think things like the PC and Ubiquitous Computing could have only happened in industry, where you can have a strong enough management that can bash enough heads to make things happen.


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