The universe, in its ever-expanding state, is a walled garden. Things enter the universe as it expands, and things don’t easily leave. Earth is a walled garden. Things enter and leave its gravitational field with much effort. Seas and rivers are walled gardens. Fish cannot leave their habitat, and most land creatures cannot enter. Masses of land are walled gardens. Things enter and leave through the skies and the seas. The cells in living organisms are walled gardens. Things enter and leave when they meet certain conditions. Countries, communities and businesses are walled gardens, and so are non-profit organizations. Homes and families are walled gardens. Our minds are walled gardens. We let ideas ideas in, and keep ideas out.
A walled garden is a closed system. Closed systems are a mix of nature and invention. They are constantly growing and shrinking, being created and becoming extinct. They are part of a larger system, and perhaps they are a small part of other systems we haven’t discovered. I’ll leave that one to the scientists.
Alan Kay, David A. Smith, and David P. Reed had gotten me thinking about walled gardens in technology. They argue that many of the inventions in our industry are walled gardens, or castles, as Reed would say. He wrote to me: “The WWW initially took off because everyone could construct [an] experience to be shared by others, but their construction was (by design) not collaborative — each person constructed within his/her own castle (web server) and invited others to visit the castle.”
Similarly, Smith talked to me about how technology should be a balance between art and science. Science should let people have these tools in the first place, and art should let them alter the designs of the tools, create new tools with existing tools, and collaborate with other people. Technology is the result of a well-balanced mashup of art and science.
These were the ideas of the technology pioneers. For a system to be open, it had to be free flowing, allowing people and their ideas to experience and create new systems within. This is how we would get on track to augmenting humanity’s collective intelligence.
We’ve lived in largely closed systems that haven’t been collaborative, and have limited the universes we can create. They allow us to learn, but not enough to learn with each other. They allow us to be free, but only within the boundaries of the walled gardens we’ve built.
Like the universe and the systems in it, the technology industry is an ever-expanding system. The Internet, operating systems, browsers, publishing and simulation apps, and the hardware we use, are small parts of a universe of unborn systems. They are a few grains of sand on a long, long beach. And like all other systems in the universe, some will grow and others will fade, only to be replaced by new systems.
This is what’s exciting about Croquet’s vision. It’s the beauty of the endless universes it will allow us to create, which remind us that technology is not what we thought it was. We haven’t scratched the surface, because the ideas that set off this industry are much bigger than what we have achieved so far, and even bigger than we know.
The virtual worlds we will collaboratively create are like the ever-expanding universe we live in, and there will be more universes than walled gardens. And then the dreams of our augmented collective intelligence will start to come true. But first, we must take down some of the walled gardens that exist in our minds, and then we will realize that, as Alan Kay said: “Man is much more than a tool builder…he is an inventor of universes.”
This story was inspired by my conversations with Alan Kay, David A. Smith and David P. Reed. Thank you for opening my mind to new universes.
- Croquet website
- The Croquet Project Wikipedia page
- Croquet — A Collaboration System Architecture (David A. Smith, Alan Kay, Andreas Raab, David P. Reed, 2003)
- Croquet — A Menagerie of New User Interfaces (David A. Smith, Andreas Raab, David P. Reed, Alan Kay, 2004)
History of Computing Ideas
- Man Computer Symbiosis (J. C. R. Licklider, 1960)
- Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (Doug Engelbart, 1962)
- The Computer as a Communication Device (J.C.R. Licklider and Robert W. Taylor, 1968)
- Naming and Synchronization in a Decentralized Computer System (David P. Reed, 1979)