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The Modern Day Sorcerer

Magic, Sorcery, and Programming

The Modern Day Sorcerer

Magic, Sorcery, and Programming


I used to be obsessed with magic. There are entire volumes dedicated to creatures and ideas associated with magic, including dragons, witches, ogres, and other assorted ilk. I was less interested in those other creatures, and more interested in the idea of a person producing something out of nothing; the act of incantation, combined with unique ingredients and ritualistic movements that could make possible the impossible. This fascinated me to no end, and even after I was old enough to know that real magic was outside the realm of possibility, I still had dreams that it could somehow manifest itself in reality.

I’m not alone in this desire. This idea of performing magic goes back thousands of years in human history. The ancient egyptians believed that certain rituals and incantations could create physical and spiritual health, as well as protection from angry gods. The etymology of the word points back to the greek word mágos, which goes as far back as the 6th century BC.

These enchantments, spells, and charms all have their root in one idea: transformation. It is the act of transforming reality that keeps us enthralled. It is, as Wikipedia puts it, “…an attempt to understand, experience and influence the world using rituals, symbols and language”. It is the desire to change our world in the way we deem fit.

The desire for transformation is alive and well, and there exists today a new sort of wizard; a modern day sorcerer, who can make powerful transformations with symbols and language. I’m referring, of course, to developers. They have various names: programmers, coders, hackers, and software engineers. They speak in strange tongues, and tend to work in the cover of night, producing dark shadows from bright screens. They have the power to create fire, lightning, and rain, albeit in a digital form at the moment, but hardware is the limiting factor here. If a matchstick had an API, creating fire would no longer be an issue.

And yes, there exist good and evil wizards in the modern world. We call them “hackers”. We even use the language and imagery of wizards when describing the characteristics of these hackers. The “black hat” hackers cause mischief and strife in the world, while the “white hat” hackers work to protect the mainstream public from the mischief. To explain this further, I need to employ the structure of the SAT analogy:

Kevin Mitnick : Raistlin :: Bruce Schneier : Gandalf
Richard Stallman and Gandalf the White

The power of these wizards is only getting stronger, as there are two major movements happening in our world that will further increase their reach and influence. The “internet of things”, where physical devices are internet-enabled, will give the matchstick an API. If the hardware you want doesn’t exist, there now exist easily programmable devices such as the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi. When devices are connected and can receive commands, the spells written in python, ruby, and java will have real-world manifestations. This movement could result in effects as wide-ranging as allowing you to turn off your oven from your phone, to alerting you when someone enters your car.

In addition, we’re seeing a movement to augment our vision with hardware devices like Google Glass. This will allow the wizards to summon forth all types of dragons, direct to your optical nerve. Your world-view can be overlaid with images of lighting when traveling over the plains of Texas, and videos of battle scenes when visiting Gettysburg.

We all benefit from further enabling these wizards, as they distill magic down to simpler spells and potions. If you remember “Q” from the Bond movies, he was very much a wizard who could transform complex technology into exploding pens and tiny guns. In the end, the real power of the wizard is in transforming the world to provide the rest of us with superpowers.