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The Technician
No Imperfections Noted
The Jeff and Casey Show
Jeff and Casey Time
Casey Muratori
Seattle, WA
Experiencing the World through Your Own Volition
"It's the same gun, different ammo."
Original air date: March 31st, 2014
Topics. Learning to code. Barack Obama. Gabe Newell. Mark Zuckerburg. New Mexico. Computer languages. Human languages. Music. Doom. Quake. Grand Theft Auto. Dragon’s Lair. The Walking Dead.
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Transcript
Jeff:
Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Jeff & Casey Show.
Casey:
Hello, and welcome to the Jeff & Casey Show.
Jeff:
Yes. So this topic was sent to us by me.
Casey:
Yeah, this is not an exciting reader submission. It is a Jeff personal…
Jeff:
Yes.
Casey:
So the interesting thing about this is actually, when you sent it, I didn’t actually know exactly what your angle on it was.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
You just said “podcast” and I don’t know why you wanted to podcast it.
Jeff:
Okay. So the thing… This particular story, and we probably should have gotten the article out so we could…
Casey:
I have it.
Jeff:
You have it up?
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
Okay. Why don’t you read a little bit of it then we’ll talk about it?
Casey:
Okay. Yeah, I did the research around the podcast.
Jeff:
Okay. I didn’t know if I even sent you enough data.
Casey:
Our lax journalistic standards are incredibly tight.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
So the title… It’s from The Washington Post, the article that you sent.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
And the headline is, “States Could Count Computer Programming as Foreign Language Skill”.
Jeff:
Right. Okay.
Casey:
That is the headline.
Jeff:
Right. And then there’s a guy, I think he’s in Arizona…
Casey:
New Mexico, close enough…
Jeff:
Alright.
Casey:
Anywhere down there is fine.
Jeff:
Yeah, that’s different? Alright.
Casey:
I think it’s all the same.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
“New Mexico legislator has proposed counting computer programming toward the State’s foreign language requirement for students in public schools, an effort he says will help give children skills they can use in a computer-oriented economy.
Jeff:
Right. So there’s a couple things here that are going on.
Casey:
Do you want me to get one of… The subtlety which I remember about the article out in the open?
Jeff:
Okay. Yes.
Casey:
So, “Districts could still teach Latin, French, or Spanish but it provides the incentive for them to incorporate computer coding into their curriculum without it being an unfunded mandate.” And I think that’s the key here to this initiative is he’s basically thinking “could we take foreign language funds and use them to teach computer programming since, obviously, being in New Mexico, we sure as hell ain’t spending more money on education because that’s completely out of the question.”
Jeff:
Right. I think there’s something else going on.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
Personally… But we can talk about that…
Casey:
So anyway, I just think so there’s that as a subtlety that, otherwise, the rest of the article is relatively… You know, sure, there’s not really much in it.
Jeff:
There’s actually a lot of this going on right now. And maybe we can talk about this in the general case.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
Which is people talking about, like, Obama’s speech where people need to learn to code.
Casey:
Did Obama make a speech saying this?
Jeff:
Well, yes. There’s a lot of people now talking about learning to code as…
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
And even in video games, they did a PSA thing where they talked about kids learning to code, dadadadada…
Casey:
Oh, there was something with Mark Zuckerberg and Gabe Newell in a video and stuff, right?
Jeff:
Yeah, Gabe was in it. Right.
Casey:
Yeah, I remember that.
Jeff:
Now, aside from all that… I mean, aside from somebody conflating computer language with human languages and the difference that is important…
Casey:
Right. Okay.
Jeff:
There and why they use… It is funny that, in something that is about language, they have confused 2 terms, “language” [ in both ends ].
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
Thinking it’s the same thing, right?
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
We’re talking about languages yet you don’t understand your own well enough to… This is completely unrelated things.
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
There is very little about computer programming… There is nothing about computer programming that has to do with learning to speak another language.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
They’re not the same thing even though they use the word, “language”. They’re very different.
Casey:
Okay. I actually do not agree with you.
Jeff:
Oh, interesting.
Casey:
But I don’t know if you want me to disagree with you now or disagree with you later.
Jeff:
We’ll go back.
Casey:
I will disagree with you but it’s just a question of timing.
Jeff:
Okay, yeah, wait a second.
Casey:
Alright.
Jeff:
So aside from that…
Casey:
Alright.
Jeff:
We set that aside for a second.
Casey:
Alright.
Jeff:
The concept that we need to be teaching computer programming to everybody is a very bad one. And that’s because we need way fewere programmers. We do not need more, right?
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
We are in bad shape in the computer industry.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
And also with this, the concept that people mix in a lot of stuff like, in a lot of these speeches, they’re like, “I’m a pretty good coder. I know HTML,” is not…
Casey:
Right…
Jeff:
I mean, there is all this mixed up stuff of, like, it sort of means I sort of know how to tinker on a computer what they think is a skill that’s marketable.
Casey:
Right. Yes.
Jeff:
And computer tinker-er is not really a job title.
Casey:
Right. Okay.
Jeff:
So that’s a terrible idea. And it’s also something we just don’t need a lot of. Severed from that…
Casey:
It’s not web designer? Web designer is not that title?
Jeff:
Yeah, that’s what I think they think coding is.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
But the thing that struck me about this was, importantly, it is happening in New Mexico or Arizona (as I’d put it in my head).
Casey:
Right. Tech capital of the world…
Jeff:
Because they have a situation going on in those states where they have a huge immigrant population. So when I read this, I thought this was a subtle thing of, like, “We need to stop teaching Spanish to these people.”
Casey:
Oh, really? I see.
Jeff:
And so, that’s how I read it.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
Now, I could be reading more into that than there is there but that’s how I initially looked at it is, like, “This isn’t a fund thing. This is a way to defund the only class that all these immigrant children can actually participate in and learn in,” it felt like.
Casey:
So the fact that it is sponsored by a democrat, Jacob Candelaria…
Jeff:
I don’t know if that makes one bit of difference in those things.
Casey:
Yeah. Often, it does. But yeah, you’re right.
Jeff:
And I’m just as… That might be me reading way into it and it may just be, “No, he’s just that dumb and thinks that languages,” like, the same part of learning to speak a language is the same thing in learning how to computer program.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
Okay. So you wanted to suggest…
Casey:
I have many bones to pick with what you’re [ saying actually ].
Jeff:
Let’s go on. Let’s begin.
Casey:
So we’ll start with sort of the easier bone to pick which is that the concept that they are… Let me start with the basic assumption. So, why do you teach a foreign language to people, right? And it’s an interesting question. Why do we teach foreign languages to children at all, right? And if you look at maybe historically, reasons why you might have taught people foreign languages, it could legitimately have been that you needed these people to be able to speak those languages. Right? It could legitimately have been the case that you’re teaching French in school because you may need to speak French to somebody.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
Now, currently, the languages that we teach in school have really no bearing on that because if they did, it would just be, like, Spanish and Mandarin. You wouldn’t be teaching French. You wouldn’t be teaching German in schools because nobody speaks German. The number of people that speak German is so tiny that you would never proportionally have that taught at anything other than a specialty school for people who are specifically going to learn like at the college level, going to become German ambassadors, translators, whatever.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
But the actual bread and butter languages that you taught young kids is Spanish and Chinese. I mean, that’s it, right…
Jeff:
If you want them to be able to use it.
Casey:
Yeah. If you’re looking at what we need to teach kids so that they’re gonna be able to… Well, maybe there’s some other one. Maybe I’m being too sure. But there certainly isn’t French, German, those languages not on the table… Italian, forget… I mean, come on. Seriously? Right? And I am Italian and even I can’t support that. Now, that said, the reason that is often given is that learning to speak a foreign language is a culturing or perspective enhancing activity for people.
Jeff:
That’s what I would think of with this.
Casey:
Many people say this.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
It is very commonly said. They say things like, “You know, it helps you relate to the other cultures if you’ve studied their language. And in studying their language, usually you study some of their culture, as well, and these sorts of things, right?
Jeff:
I could see somebody saying, “Hey, you learn enough about a language to really speak it, you might have more empathy…”
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
“But not only for that culture, probably…”
Casey:
Right. Yes. Yeah, well that’s true.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
And in some respects, I do believe there is a little bit of that if you were picking a language that is sufficiently different. If you study Japanese or Chinese and you are a romance or dramatic language person, absolutely, that is pretty mind-expanding. If you study French as an English speaker, it’s the same language. There’s no difference. The thought process of putting together a French sentence is identical.
Jeff:
Okay. I don’t know enough about French.
Casey:
I’ve done it and it’s exactly the same though process so it’s really just a question of retraining up all of your innate language skills that you just have with a different set of… It’s the same gun, different ammo.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
But there’s no… Whereas learning to speak Japanese or Chinese is like, complete mind fuck. You can’t form your thoughts the same way. You have to kind of rearrange how you’re even putting things like, “Oh, I don’t think about this part first. I think about that part first or whatever,” right? Still, to a large extent, I think it starts to be bullshit. I just don’t think the language shapes things as much as linguists or anthropologists want you to think that language shapes the way things are. I think it’s a lot more just reflective and not very much formative.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
So I don’t know that somebody who learns a foreign language gets this sort of thing from learning that language that they couldn’t have gotten just from studying the culture without knowing the language but that is sort of the myth that’s in there.
Jeff:
Okay. Well, my argument for teaching foreign languages at that age is that’s when we are really good at that.
Casey:
So you might as well?
Jeff:
Yeah. I mean, it’s a good part of, like, “Let’s stretch that part of your brain while you can,” because the ability to do that drops so dramatically. That said, that may not be true for very much longer…
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
Because you read about this drug, right?
Casey:
Oh, no. What’s that?
Jeff:
I wish I can remember the name of the drug.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
It’s a common drug and I think it’s for depression or something.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
But they’ve noticed it restores the elasticity part of your brain that’s really good for learning languages. Like, people on this drug retain about as much as children do when they take it.
Casey:
Really? That’s fucking weird.
Jeff:
It’s weird which is like… When everyone says, “Hey, there’s no side effects with this drug. Ah, there’s some stuff going on we don’t understand at all but…”
Casey:
Wait, so you’re telling me, basically, that it is not just that it restores your capacity to learn, it specifically restores your capacity to learn linguistic things?
Jeff:
Linguistic and apparently music, which are similar to that part of you that’s good at that at a young age that gets calcified…
Casey:
But it doesn’t necessarily help math or something…
Jeff:
I don’t know. They spoke about those 2 specifically.
Casey:
Interesting. Anyway…
Jeff:
Anyway…
Casey:
Putting that aside for a second.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
Or permanently…
Jeff:
So that’s why… I mean, I think that’s the reason why… Like, hey, I don’t… Like, having a lot of those classes in high school and junior high is not going to serve most people well. I mean, it might give you…
Casey:
But that gets back to the thing I said before which is if the point of teaching it to our young is they’ll be good at it, you should teach with something they can use like Spanish or Chinese.
Jeff:
I don’t think you always have to teach things that necessarily are 100% applicable in their future life. I mean, that’s like teaching… Then we stop teaching math and we start teaching balancing checkbooks, right?
Casey:
No, no, no. But that’s different, like there has to be some reason to learn it. Math has some abstract value but a foreign language doesn’t do anything your language doesn’t already do. In fact, this is the point that I was about to get to with computer programming…
Jeff:
Well, it depends. Like, if you want to read Russian poetry, you want to read it in the original language and not poorly translated…
Casey:
I guess.
Jeff:
I mean, there are things that it provides. I don’t think it’s completely useless. It is definitely less useful than most things you’d teach but, hey…
Casey:
I wouldn’t just say “less useful”. I would say “is the least useful thing that we teach”.
Jeff:
That is definitely not true compared to some of the classes I had in high school and college.
Casey:
Okay, maybe you had some worse classes. I can’t think of anything less useful in my school than the foreign languages.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
They were the least useful thing especially because if you… Really, the only one you could have used probably was Spanish. The other ones… Like, we had a German class and we didn’t have a Chinese class which was crazy.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
But that’s just [ welcome to New England ]…
Jeff:
But that was also that long ago, too.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
I think Chinese is still unusual to be taught in public schools but I know you can teach Japanese in a lot of high schools here.
Casey:
They probably just don’t have the pipeline. Okay.
Jeff:
Which I think Japanese is useful… Cultures that have not assimilated English to the degree that most of Europe has…
Casey:
That’s true…
Jeff:
Japanese, Korean, Chinese… You can get jobs that actually could use those…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
But those are probably the least likely to get taught.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
Spanish is valuable even here, all the way this north in Washington. There’s a huge number of people that speak Spanish here. So that’s very valuable.
Casey:
Yeah, I mean, I think we are… Spanish and Canadian are the 2 languages that you would want to teach in America because that way, you can communicate with immigrants from both…
Jeff:
French Canadian?
Casey:
No, Canadian, just Canadian.
Jeff:
Oh, okay.
Casey:
There’s a lot of stuff that they say that people might not know because they don’t know what Zed is, right? If someone says Zed to you, you don’t know what that is but it’s Z. And that’s a thing that we could teach.
Jeff:
They’re going on and on about doughnuts and bacon.
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
And I know what those are but I don’t know why it’s so important to them, culturally.
Casey:
This is back bacon.
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
We have bacon here…
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
So the point is…
Jeff:
So you’re making a different argument…
Casey:
I’m not even making a point.
Jeff:
Than the guy…
Casey:
I’m not even making a point yet. I was leading into the point.
Jeff:
Alright.
Casey:
I was circum-locuting the point. I was getting the point set up for a slap shot into the point goal.
Jeff:
You’re circling the point.
Casey:
My point of it all is that if you are going to rank the importance of what we teach in school, computer language should be way the fuck above foreign language. And the reason that I say that is because it actually has a huge amount of relevance to what everyone does. You are constantly, and thanks to the internet of things, probably increasingly so having to deal with computers every day. And if you have not had the sort of wakeup call that is watching how somebody who is not familiar with computers and computer programming tries to work through doing something on their computer, it is pure fucking voodoo. They don’t have any conceptualization of what could be possible or is…
Jeff:
Couldn’t agree more.
Casey:
Right? And so, it’s definitely way, way above those.
Jeff:
I agree.
Casey:
And computer programming specifically I think falls into the category of things that do legitimately expand the way you think about things which is not true of sister languages to ours, languages close to ours like, for example, even Spanish. Learning Spanish I think expands your mind not at all. This is as someone who has learned Spanish. I just don’t find that it changes anything about my ability to conceptualize problems or to think about them in new ways. It changed that not at all whereas computer programming, if you learn to do enough of it, radically changes your ability to think about problems. I don’t know if that’s for better or for worse but it definitely has a massive broadening effect when you start to look at systems, right?
Jeff:
I don’t think they do the same… Like, the conflation between them, if you said, “Hey, we want to start funding,” I don’t think you ever want to make policy based on… Like if computer programming is important to you…
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
To teaching it…
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
And that’s great.
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
And I agree with you that it’s more important than foreign language.
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
You don’t say it’s a foreign language so we just classify it as a foreign language [inaudible 16:26]
Casey:
Okay, right, which is point number 2.
Jeff:
That is retarded.
Casey:
So that’s point 2 which is “are computer languages languages”.
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
Which is question number 2, right? So that’s why I said I had 2 bones to pick.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
At least 2 bones to pick with this. So I picked the first bone, the first bone was picked. It’s the less conceptual of the 2 bones, it’s basically just a utilitarian perspective. It’s like if we were to consider…
Jeff:
I would put them roughly on the same importance. I don’t computer programming skill necessarily makes you always a better computer user. So I think that whether we teach computer programming or logic or philosophy or some of the things that bind behind this stuff or even like deductive…
Casey:
Philosophy? Where did philosophy… If philosophy is on the table, that’s a totally different discussion.
Jeff:
No, I’m just saying… You said that there’s something important about computer programming…
Casey:
You want them to smoke pot and talk about the meaning of life?
Jeff:
No. Thinking about the process of thinking and deductive reasoning is actually a valuable thing…
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
Because thinking about that leads you to be like, “Alright, here’s how we reason about something…”
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
“We don’t start randomly trying things on the computer. We’re systematic about this.”
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
“We don’t change 2 things at once and see if it fixes the problem. We change one.”
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
Like little stupid things like that is a separate skill set than computer programming itself which I don’t think we need… I think we’re probably fine on that, the amount of teaching we do on that, personally.
Casey:
I would agree on that only in the practical aspect of it which is that given… So given, for example, the quality of math education that I received. And math has had a very long history and a long history of being taught. I agree with you if I say… Well, let’s assume that you’re going to get the same degree of quality education in computer programming as I got in math education, I would agree with you. But it’s strictly because of that practicality. In the actual… If we actually assumed that these people would become very good at programming, like they actually could become good programmers. I think there is a leap that goes there which is very important which is when you start to be able to consider large systems that have lots of variables and how you deal with those, the debugging of them, the architecting of them and so on, I think that is a very important mind expanding thing to do that I often find myself realizing I’ve taken for granted. Like, I’ll look at something like I’ll approach some social problem that someone’s discussing or some political problem and I realize that my perspective on it has definitely been changed from what it would have been had I never dealt with very messy problems in a controlled space where I did have the complete ability to observe them, right… The understanding of how complex systems like that, how hard they are even in perfect scenarios and the sorts of things that you have to do to make them work and to ship them and to get them working, that understanding definitely plays into the way that I approach problems totally unrelated to computer programming…
Jeff:
Yeah, that’s possible. I think that has very…
Casey:
That’s very mind expanding, in my opinion.
Jeff:
I will say that has way more to do with you than it does with computer programming.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
Because the most… The general computer programming is the [ asp-y ] thing of “I understand this so therefore, I understand everything” kind of pragmatic-ness that, like, they think the world is as simple as the problems that they approach in computers, not that they are as complicated as they’d say in approaching computers.
Casey:
Well, alright.
Jeff:
So I think that’s fairly unique among…
Casey:
If I was teaching the class… Let’s rephrase it that way. In practice, like I said, I don’t think what I’m saying holds water because I don’t think kids would learn this… If I was teaching a computer programming class, I believe that my students, if I taught them through their years, I believe that they would come away having a much better understanding of the complex systems that exist that have nothing to do with computer programming that surround them and then affect their lives.
Jeff:
Possibly. Now, you could say, if you were teaching a foreign language, that might also happen.
Casey:
But I don’t understand that. I’ve never seen any evidence of that as true. I would love someone to explain to me why that was true because I have never experienced that, having learned 3 foreign languages. So maybe you have to learn them better than I know.
Jeff:
I would say the quality of the education that I got is not great.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
But the difference between my math and hard science teaching and foreign language which… And I was… I represented our school in foreign language competitions because I took everything…
Casey:
Yes, that’s true. Yeah, if they were…
Jeff:
It’s not even… Those teachers spoke the language, they were hired.
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
Like the math teachers at least had to understand some of the math and even the computer programmers, which my… In retrospect, I would have taken no computer programming and just done… Because it wasn’t worth it. It was easier to pick that up on my own that it was to do math classes. It would have been way better for me.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
But that’s just… You know, everybody’s education is different especially in the time…
Casey:
I don’t see it.
Jeff:
I’ve never seen modern computer programming. So my computer programming classes, as I remember, was when this stuff was just starting out and they were absurdly useless. They did not understand even the questions on the AP test.
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
Let alone be able to teach me how to do that.
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
So I’m sure that’s improved…
Casey:
When I took the AP test, I just took it because we didn’t really have a programming class, I don’t think.
Jeff:
Awesome.
Casey:
And I was the only person who took it in the school.
Jeff:
Yeah, on the first year, I was the only one that took it in my school. And the next year, 3 people did. But yeah, we still [inaudible 22:30]
Casey:
Like I said, it’s not even worth debating at this point because it’s not that interesting. And like I said, in practice, it wouldn’t happen anyway. So I don’t actually believe that those things that I’m saying would come across in a general curriculum. You have to have a very good teacher to show you why these things are true. And so, I think that much like you don’t see the beauty of math when you go through the math system here in the States, you would not see any of these things I’m talking about in programming even though they’re there.
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
And so, putting that aside, we move on the question of, “Is computer programming a language?” Right? And I guess… ‘Cos I don’t know. The phrase, “Is it a foreign language?” I don’t know what that necessarily means. We can really only talk about is it a language, right? Like, does it fit some definition of language that we might have, meaning things that people use to communicate with each other or whatever, right?
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
And what I would say to that is I don’t see any way it could not be considered a language. And the reason for that is because it’s so clear right now that we are able to construct things which, in these languages at a very deep level, are about communicating ideas. And we’ve only started to do that now with the way game designers have sort of been pushing on this front lately in terms of actually communicating an idea with the code, right?
Jeff:
I think you’re mixing up what the thing does versus what it is. Like, you could use code to write something that communicates with another person but that doesn’t make it a foreign language in a sense that a foreign language can communicate directly with them, as well. They’re not the same…
Casey:
But that’s only because we don’t read each other’s code, right?
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
So I don’t really know that that’s all that different.
Jeff:
I think that’s very different because I think that computer languages, as we use them, are not about expressing ideas so much as they are about expressing the logic that can be used to implement an idea. And that’s a different scaffolding in my brain. And maybe there’s at some point in computer programming where you are expressing things in a higher order way but the way I think of computer programming, certainly for the next 30-50 years as we teach it, it going to be very much more about expressing equivalences. I would call it closer to logic or math than a language which is about expressing ideas. Like, can you just (using logic) express an idea? Yes, but that’s not the same thing as making it a language.
Casey:
Well, there’s… So is that the point that you’re standing on there for that? Is that your main concern on it? Here’s one example I would say, right… Would someone consider music a language?
Jeff:
No, I don’t think so.
Casey:
So music is not a language?
Jeff:
No, I think that is expressing something else. Now, can it be used to communicate with people? Absolutely. But it’s not… The mechanism isn’t about directly communicating through that to somebody else unless you’re using a code in the music or something that somebody is…
Casey:
So you’re saying because it’s more abstract, because it is not…
Jeff:
It’s indirect.
Casey:
As attached to the actual physical things it’s talking about…
Jeff:
Because you’re going to take something that might not be exactly what I intended whereas my words, carefully chosen, should be fairly specific.
Casey:
But it’s just a degree of that, right, because you can’t communicate 100% accurately verbally either.
Jeff:
Right, right…
Casey:
So you’re talking about there’s a threshold somewhere that you’ve drawn…
Jeff:
Yes.
Casey:
Which is, like, “Once you are above this threshold, you are in language territory. And when you’re below it, you’re in something else territory” or something?
Jeff:
Yeah, I have to think about what it is. I mean, it’s still communication but it’s not in the same way where you’re communicating almost a different set of ideas. It’s very hard to communicate some of the discussion that we’re having here in music short of just making the lyrics…
Casey:
Oh, yes. Right, right, but I’m just trying to probe…
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
I’m just trying to get the boundary here.
Jeff:
But similarly with computer programming, if I wanted to try to map this conversation into logic, it would end up being, like, “If Jeff is convinced why I like…” Something kind of like that… Still is not giving the sense of what it means to listen to this podcast in language form. I don’t think you can represent what we’re doing in code without a massive expansion to the point of the ideas that we’re trying to express will be lost.
Casey:
I don’t think that’s true at all. And the reason for that is because it’s a superset. Like, computer programming language has the ability to embed any foreign language in it right off the bat, obviously. So if it just wants to print out English, it can do that trivially. So this conversation could occur verbatim or the audio for it could occur verbatim in the thing, right?
Jeff:
But that’s in language form. All you’ve done is encapsulate…
Casey:
Right, right, so what I’m saying is…
Jeff:
I mean, that’s an escape protocol. That’s cheating.
Casey:
But I’m just saying we know at least it can, right?
Jeff:
But that’s the same thing. I can start quoting you [inaudible 27:48] right now. That escape mechanism…
Casey:
But wait, hold on a second. But it has the… No you can’t right?
Jeff:
How so?
Casey:
Because you can’t actually have the code execute. So you can’t actually communicate to the effect of a piece of code. You can’t do that.
Jeff:
Sure. It would just take a while but if I tell you the number of times we’ll have this argument and then go around and it will be 4 times and in the 4th time, [inaudible 28:14]
Casey:
No, that’s ridiculous. No.
Jeff:
You could run that algorithm in your head just as easily as explained. It will just be [inaudible 28:20]
Casey:
So I just have to pick a more complicated algorithm. I can include any, no matter how complex, English thing in a computer program trivially with a pair of quotes whereas trying to embed the richness of a computer program into English is nearly impossible. You couldn’t even do it for a very small, simple program.
Jeff:
No, I can read you any piece of code you give. I can read it out loud.
Casey:
But I wouldn’t understand it. That’s my point. The actual act, the fact that it is executed by a computer is important.
Jeff:
The running of the execution is not… Executing the program is not the communication that it’s doing, right?
Casey:
It is, yes, it is.
Jeff:
I don’t know if you agree with that but… Okay, continue for a second, then.
Casey:
So in my mind, it’s definitely… Like, computer programming is definitely a way to communicate things to other humans. And furthermore, it is a way to communicate things to other humans that cannot be communicated in a static form any other way. Meaning, I can’t write a book that can communicate some of the things that can be communicated in something that has the ability to take your user input, right? We all know this to be true. That’s what interactivity is.
Jeff:
Sure.
Casey:
It’s an increased gamut of an ability to communicate something, right? One that we don’t currently… We aren’t really able to use very effectively at this time but we know that it’s there. We know that it is there. We know that it is because I can obviously make a program that just prints out a book where it’s like Kindle reader or whatever…
Jeff:
But that’s English. I’m not gonna call that code because…
Casey:
Right, but what I’m saying is the code is just superset. It can produce English but then it can produce more than English. It’s like taking a language and adding a better language on top of it.
Jeff:
No, I’m saying we have English…
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
And we use those, the English words that we’re familiar with, to make computer programming. You can embed one in the other. I don’t think that means anything. Like, it doesn’t seem…
Casey:
What do you mean by “means anything”?
Jeff:
Like language, our ability to communicate in English is what allowed us to make the computer programs that do that anyway.
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
That’s why there’s “if” and “while” and “then”, like those words are in there.
Casey:
Sure.
Jeff:
So what I’m saying is, that’s not… Being able to print out English doesn’t make it English++. In fact…
Casey:
It does. That’s exactly what it does.
Jeff:
No, I totally disagree with that. All you’ve done is, it’s English and then the extra little horse shit around that is… You’ve just escaped what you’re doing into a better form. It’s just like switching between some domain-specific language.
Casey:
I don’t think English needs replacement, right. When I look at English, I don’t think, “Wow, we have really got to scrap this whole thing and make a new thing.”
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
Right? So computer programming does a smart thing. It didn’t reinvent English to have yet another language to communicate the things that we already knew how to communicate.
Jeff:
Sure.
Casey:
What it does is it adds the ability to do all the things that we can’t do when we write down English. It is the improvement of English into a new language… Or I shouldn’t say English. It’s the improvement of all languages since it can handle them all. Well, probably not all of them because they probably fucked up something in Unicode. Let’s say they had done Unicode correctly. It is the taking of all languages and turning them into a new superset language that has vastly more capabilities for communication to communicating intent which you never could communicate before in any other static form. Now, we so far have done a pretty poor job of actually leveraging that intent to do anything other than communicate relatively basic intent-based things. Like, “I threw the knife and it hit the wall and stuck.” My intent was that knives that are thrown at walls stick. We’ve got stuff like that, right? We’re able to encapsulate that kind of intent thought into computer programs so that people can experience them, right?
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
But I think in the future, we’ll be able to encapsulate way more kinds of intent so that when you have something [ like at work ], like you’re like, “Oh, it’s Lolita,” or whatever, “It’s this book and I read it and whatever,” right? We will actually have the ability to encapsulate some measure of actual intent on the part of the author into the work as opposed to just one static snapshot of something that conveys potentially what their intent was.
Jeff:
Wait. You’re saying the intent is about the author?
Casey:
Yeah. Computer programming is a language that lets the person who’s doing the writing encapsulate their own intent about what was happening behind the scenes in a way that you could not do before because since it can now respond to you, you can probe at something in the work, whatever it is. You can do some kind of exploration to it and he or she, whoever the author (or “they” is probably more likely the case in a lot of cases with computer programs) can respond to you. So part of them is being communicated in the work. And we’ve never had that ability before.
Jeff:
That feels really weird to be because, like, I agree that the point, the interesting thing of what we’re going to get out of computer programming is interactivity…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
But I, like…
Casey:
Then you already agree. So that’s good.
Jeff:
No, wait. But the…
Casey:
We can end the podcast [inaudible 33:38]
Jeff:
No. Stop it. The interactivity is, like… Providing more intent from the author is not the interesting part of interactivity to me at all. It’s to let the person participate in a way that you don’t expect. Like, intent is so boring. If you want intent, you can write the story linearly and provide very good intent.
Casey:
No, no, no. Intent might be the wrong word, then, for it.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
I mean world-view. The reason I’m reading a book by a particular author is ‘cos I’m interested to hear what this particular author has to say. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be reading a book by him. That’s kind of the basic assumption, right?
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
So when I do that, there’s a very formidable wall that is erected there because of the way the medium works which is that he doesn’t know or they don’t know what it is that I actually am coming to this work with. It’s not like I get to sit down with Dostoyevsky and talk to him about this thing so that it can be like a collaborative work to find out where I’m actually learning more about him by interrogative things, right? But with computer programming, we have that capability now. Somebody who’s never going to have the opportunity to sit down with the author might actually now have the ability to act in a conversational way with them. And that is a very important linguistic thing that has nothing to do with logic or any of that stuff.
Jeff:
No, but it has to do with the author having thought all of the possible things that you might ever do.
Casey:
No, you don’t know that. That’s an assumption about how code will work in the future. We have no idea ‘cos we haven’t explored how that stuff works.
Jeff:
I’m going to simply say if you think that a computer programmer will be able to represent pieces of his worldview in logic, in some form of code, in some form of language…
Casey:
Right. Yes.
Jeff:
That lets the computer extrapolate what he meant without him having to do it, then I would massively disagree with you.
Casey:
Well, all of the things you just said would totally have been true if you take some art thing minus minus. If you asked a sculptor if they would ever be able… You know, a sculptor from 500 BC or something like this, “Will you ever be able to capture the actual motion of a person in your sculpture as opposed to just the implication of the motion?” They’d be like, “No. There’s no way to do that. You’d have to carve something out of the marble and you’re done.” But nowadays, we know for a fact that it’s trivial to do so. You bring up an animation program and they could fucking animate the figure exactly the way they want, right?
Jeff:
But the author made all those in the form of…
Casey:
The computer does a huge amount of extrapolation on the motion for that.
Jeff:
You are extrapolating something that is like blending vertices and saying that we will have a method of blending ideas the same way.
Casey:
Everything seems impossible when you haven’t done it yet.
Jeff:
No, this is crazy because if you say that that’s possible, if there is a… First of, if there was a [ Max ] for expressing ideas in a way…
Casey:
If it was [ Max ], it wouldn’t work.
Jeff:
Yeah. That’s [inaudible 36:48]
Casey:
Forget [ Max ]. Let’s say it worked better than [inaudible 36:50]
Jeff:
But I was gonna say let’s [inaudible 36:50] that there’s an editor out there that allows you to express ideas in such a generic way that things you haven’t thought about would still be self consistent with the world you created…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
I say you’re [ fucking with us ].
Casey:
We absolutely will have that.
Jeff:
I would say you’re absolutely crazy.
Casey:
There is no question, no question, that we will have that.
Jeff:
Not only would it not do what you think but… Not only would it not be what the author intended…
Casey:
At first, absolutely. It will be like tools today. The first tools for any of the things will be exactly as broken as our first tools were. And even after 10-20 years of working on them, they will be much, much better compared to what we had but they’ll still be… Just like [ Max ]. I mean, [ Max ] is way the fuck better, as much as I can’t stand 3D Studio [ Max ], it is way the fuck better than what we had to model with in 1995…
Jeff:
Sure.
Casey:
You know, the original 3D Studio 4, I guess was out that time, right? [ Max ] today, holy shit, you can do a lot of stuff with that, right? But it’s still janky.
Jeff:
It’s still geometric. It’s not ideas. And I think you’re extrapolating along a direction that we have no motion on, like zero, like it’s sitting there flat lined. And I think you expect it to turn. And I think it is something different. I don’t know what it is…
Casey:
It will turn just like 3D turned. 3D was just bastardized for a while and then, all of a sudden, you’ve got this injection and it was like, “Alright, now we’ve got this huge [inaudible 38:17]
Jeff:
This totally feels like the IBM people making all of the neurons and all we need is to get enough neurons and then we start thinking.
Casey:
No. There will be interactive story stuff for real before we are dead, assuming I don’t die soon. If I lived out a normal life and I lived to be 70, we will see the beginnings of that before we are even gone. That’s how confident I am that once that trend starts, it will go quickly.
Jeff:
I definitely believe there will be tools necessary to write there. I still believe the person does every last little bit of human lifting…
Casey:
You are wrong. You are wrong.
Jeff:
And everything that he doesn’t do is gonna be absolutely bananas in the sense that, “Oh, I didn’t specify this,” so when the user says, “Hey, how come there are no bananas in this world?”
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
He’s like, “No, there’s bananas everywhere. [ Did I forget ] to mention the bananas? They’re everywhere. There’s 96 bananas.
Casey:
You are totally wrong.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
The reason you are totally wrong (and I can tell you why you are totally wrong) is because every time you start with something…
Jeff:
I’m enjoying the fact that you are more optimistic about something than I am because that is usually the opposite.
Casey:
Yeah, that is usually the opposite. The reason is because every time you look at a problem and that problem hasn’t had its period of smart people actually working on it, it appears like it’s this thing that has no possible crack in it. It’s this big impossible fucking wall. And it’s like, “Well, no. It goes all the way around. Forget it,” right? But invariably, you end up getting this period where a bunch of people start working on it and they’re like, “Oh, actually no. It turns out, when we’re talking, we think it’s this thing that’s so unique and different but actually, there’s only these 10 patterns. And we can generate all 10 patterns by doing blablabla…” And they’re like, “Alright, so all we need is this,” so yes, I agree. We have never had that period. The people who have done all the AI stuff for the past 50-60 years, they’re not the guys. They’re the people who thought that there was a real fucking Ethernet and Phlogiston and thought that the earth was the center of the universe. They’re smart people but they just didn’t have the right ideas. Eventually, we’ll get some people who are hardcore about this. And it will get solved. It will absolutely get solved. Not right away but it will start the process. It will be shitty for the first 10 years. It will start to get better. It will be totally functional in 30…
Jeff:
It will always be shitty. It will be maybe, A, it has some world knowledge and it can fill in some stuff that isn’t nonsense. But you can’t program artistic intent that way, I don’t think. And I think it is something else. And I think you get… You’re like, “Oh, hey, it’ll be like…” I guess…
Casey:
[ Paprikash ], you’re spouting paprikash.
Jeff:
Here’s what I think it will be like.
Casey:
Alright.
Jeff:
It will be like the difference between people using procedural art versus people who use authored art. It’s like, yes, you have games that look nice with procedural art but it is still like… There’s just a non-realness to it.
Casey:
But realness isn’t necessarily a part of intent either, right? Or whatever the word you want is.
Jeff:
It feels different. It doesn’t feel right when they do that. And it’s fine. It’s like, hey, it’s a way to save all this money and it’s a way to save all this production time. But it’s the same thing. It’s like…
Casey:
But what do you mean by it doesn’t feel… It obviously feels really good because procedural games are some of the most popular that exist today.
Jeff:
I would say the immersion you feel in a world that is procedurally-generated is very different than the world that has been authored.
Casey:
But not apparently in an off-putting way. I mean, Minecraft wouldn’t work if this were some off-putting facet that is completely procedural dynamic world, right?
Jeff:
Yeah, except that you have people in the world building things that are completely authored. And that’s what, when you watch the YouTubes, that’s how people are looking at it in Minecraft, right, is this huge fucking Star Trek Enterprise and…
Casey:
I don’t usually think of it that way. I mean, people actually like playing those games but okay…
Jeff:
The reason I think people like Minecraft is because they can express themselves in it, like they can make shit. And that’s more important. So I think what you get is something janky that feels… You feel the edges of all over of, like, “Oh, this is the place that I asked the computer something that the author really didn’t think about,” and you also presuppose that most authors are aware enough of their own universe that they could answer those questions in a way that isn’t nuts.
Casey:
Okay, much like everything else, that I don’t presuppose. And the reason I don’t presuppose that is because much like with every other medium, it will not be true that the authors who were good at the stuff that we have now are the authors of that medium. Just like playwrights trying to write for cinema often suck because they don’t understand the differences between… That will exactly be the same. You will end up with the fact that if somebody who is really into writing linear static snapshot media goes to write one of these interactive things, whatever it looks like when it comes out, it will probably be exactly like what you just said.
Jeff:
No, I think you end up with weird ass George Lucas-y types that are making up nonsense about a world… Like, trying to fill in all the gaps as fast as you pose them. And it’s clear, whenever you see those interviews with George Lucas and they’re like, “Well, what about this?” You can see him pause. And he makes some nonsense up. That’s what it’s gonna feel like when you play the computer program.
Casey:
I’ve said this to Jonathan [ Blow ] before, as well. We have not had this argument because I feel like he would’ve had a much better argument [inaudible 43:45] So just pretend there were some more stuff being said that was better but what you’ve been saying, you’re on the same side that he was on. And what I tried to counter that particular part of the argument with is that…
Jeff:
He didn’t use George Lucas, did he?
Casey:
No, no, no, no, no…
Jeff:
’Cos that would be hysterical. [inaudible 44:04] George Lucas is always the example of really shitty world-building? That’s great.
Casey:
No, he did not say the things that you said at all. This is just talking about the interactive story thing in general. Nobody ever says those same things about the other ways in which we make interactivity. Like the things that you’re complaining about are as if you’re complaining that you couldn’t go outside of the walled areas of Quake. That’s not what an interactive experience is. And interactive experience does not mean that I show up and I just say that there’s a pink fucking gorilla, now you have to respond to it, Mr. Author. That’s not what a 2-way street looks like at all. It doesn’t have to look like that. That could be. That’s one way. But that’s not the only way, right? We accept the fact that when we are put in a Quake map, that we are exploring the map and we are interacting with the map and we have a certain degree of control over what’s happening and everyone understands this and it’s fine. Nobody says that there are problems with these other ways that we have solved the fact that you cannot do arbitrary interactivity with physical things. Stories will be no different but they will totally work and they will totally be better for it once we have the ability to make them interactive and just because they have those boundaries will not make them seem wrong.
Jeff:
I think that you will see those boundaries and it will be more off-putting to the story than anything you’re trying to communicate.
Casey:
But why is that not true in the Quake map?
Jeff:
It is. That’s why things like GTA came along after is because they spend… Have 10,000 monkeys writing the code to makes the toilets flush, to make the pop machine work, to make the pop machine then be able to open the pop, to then be able to throw the pop machine in the garbage…
Casey:
This was all fine. We all were able to do that work and it got better and it worked.
Jeff:
But it’s still like… All you need to do is look at the GTA videos on YouTube and the videos that are popular, all of where the simulation breaks…
Casey:
But that’s fine. That’s fine, too. What I’m saying is it has not posed any problems.
Jeff:
But it has not…
Casey:
Tens of millions of people play those games and love it.
Jeff:
But it has nothing to do with you as an author communicating to them, has not been helped by the fact that the physics breaks all over the place.
Casey:
No, no. That’s totally different. There is always going to be breakage, presumably. I mean, maybe someday you make something where it doesn’t have any breakage. But I mean, the fact that that occurs sometimes does not mean that when somebody slid around the corner and knocked over the telephone pole and it was cool or whatever, that that intent of the people who made that which was what they were trying to do, they were trying to create a thing where you kind of have these crazy physical thing… That works way more often than it doesn’t and people love it. Yes, the breakage is exciting to see when it happens because it’s funny and interesting and that’s kind of a fringe benefit. And I think that will be a fringe benefit for story games, too. You’ll post a thing where it’s like, “Holy shit. I got [inaudible 46:53] where the [ pookaboo ] went and he climbed over the thing,” and that will be funny or whatever. But that is not the primary thing to focus on. That doesn’t make the whole thing not work.
Jeff:
Yes, see, I see it only as… I mean, certainly, there is convenient things that allow you to structure complicated ideas in linear format that is an advantage…
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
I’d hope you agree to that. If you want to express an idea that’s very specific about what you want to do, writing up linearly is going to be better almost always in something interactive.
Casey:
But potentially less compelling which is interesting. It could be less… So one example is…
Jeff:
I would be shocked…
Casey:
Like, propaganda is a good example. Let’s say I want to make something that’s… Propaganda’s a loaded term so maybe I don’t say propaganda but a piece that is politically-charged like I am writing something… I am George Orwell. I am not somebody writing just a general fiction that’s just supposed to be nebulous and not have a point or whatever, right, like modern fiction writers or whatever.
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
So, I’m trying to make a point. It’s fucking “Animal Farm”, it’s “1984”, it’s whatever.
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
So when you are doing that, one primary problem you have is you don’t know who you’re trying to convince. So having the option, having the ability to suss out a little bit by early interactions with whoever is consuming this work what might be the best way to convince them of something is actually a very powerful tool that, yes, I agree maybe the amount you lose from not being able to structure it linearly, who knows what that calculus is, because like I said, I don’t think we can say that. We don’t know what the tools are going to be like. We don’t know what it’s going to be like. But the fact that there is the potential for improvement is no question because the ability to do that… That is why in person argument can work so well sometimes because someone who’s a very skilled, manipulator can sense what your angles are on something and tailor their pitch to you that way like a good salesman, right? Whereas a single brochure that just has one piece of text can’t do that and falls down.
Jeff:
That’s what really good writing does, though.
Casey:
It doesn’t. It can’t.
Jeff:
It does.
Casey:
It can’t.
Jeff:
No, it so does.
Casey:
No, it totally doesn’t, dude.
Jeff:
No. It does because people are reading it at different levels. Intelligent linear stories can be read by different people who get different things out of it.
Casey:
Different things out of it but that’s different than being able to actually tailor yourself to that person because there are things that are mutually exclusive. I can’t do… There are certain things that, if I put them in here, will be off-putting to person X but would be very convincing to person Y. There’s no doubt that that is true. It’s just pure perspective of the reader that certain things are mutually exclusive. You can’t put them all in.
Jeff:
Well, aside from manipulating a person, skipping over manipulation and just trying to communicate, you can’t… Leaving something out means the media… You didn’t experience the same thing. You experience…
Casey:
That’s the point.
Jeff:
No, because that’s not…
Casey:
That’s interactivity.
Jeff:
If you’re trying to communicate with somebody and you’re like, you’re too stupid to understand this, it’s your job in the linear media to educate them into there, right?
Casey:
[inaudible 50:05] being stupid. It’s where you come from. It’s what your perspective is when you [inaudible 50:08]
Jeff:
No, it’s how manipulable you are, right?
Casey:
No. It’s like if I’m trying to convince someone of something even if it’s entirely genuine or I’m trying to get a point across, even, that’s not about manipulation, just trying to be like, I’m trying to tell you something about something, it’s not necessarily manipulation but I’m trying to tell you about person X’s life, if you are somebody who is coming to that work who is going to be extremely antagonistic to that perspective, I may have no real way of getting at that no matter how suavely I write this thing in a way that wouldn’t make it totally uninteresting or unpalatable to somebody who is very sympathetic to it. They might be like, “What the fuck is all this stuff at the beginning?” And like, just… You know…
Jeff:
That’s what a good story does.
Casey:
No, you’re saying that…
Jeff:
That’s the universality is…
Casey:
There is no such thing as… Name a story that everyone reads and believes. That’s not a thing, right?
Jeff:
No, but there is…
Casey:
The only ones that work that way are ones that are totally ambiguous like the Bible where you can just read anything you want into it and you don’t have to actually believe it, right?
Jeff:
No, I’m saying like a good story is, that’s its job is to try to… I mean, you’re trying to appeal to as many people, assumably. You might be writing to a specific audience but if you’re trying to appeal to as many people as you want, that’s the complexity of writing a good piece of literature versus just, like, shitting out a story. You just putting an “if” on page one to jump to book 2 so you can skip over book 1.
Casey:
I’ll give you a trivial example.
Jeff:
It’s just a…
Casey:
It doesn’t really scale very well.
Jeff:
This aside from the fact of being a communication between 2 people is a completely separate problem.
Casey:
But hold on a second. So here’s a trivial example. The most basic trivial example of this is let’s say you have 2 readers. One reader does not like to read things that are too pedestrian, vocabulary-wise. They just won’t read it. They just don’t have the stamina to read through stuff that is just very base in its presentation.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
They won’t read that book. Then you have somebody else who doesn’t fucking know any of those words anyway. They just don’t know any of the words that you would need to use to please this other reader to just keep them reading. The content, separate. There is no… We’re not even talking about the content. We’re just talking about literally the tactical ability to write to these 2 different people is completely different. That would be trivially solved in an interactive thing but completely unsolvable in a printed book, right?
Jeff:
But what you’re saying is so ridiculous…
Casey:
Hold on. So that exists. You don’t believe it does and I don’t know how you don’t believe it does but you don’t believe that exists in the conceptual world. But that is crazy. I don’t know how someone could live in today’s society and not believe that the exact same thing is true, conceptually. You have to use different sets of concepts to talk to different sets of people. You can’t just put one set of concept together that everyone will read and understand. That doesn’t happen.
Jeff:
But that’s not what you’re necessarily even trying to do with the story. You’re not trying to be, like… Okay, my point here is to be like… To scale down to any level of stupidity that reads my book.
Casey:
It’s not stupidity. It’s conceptual difference. Reader 1’s worldview and reader 2’s worldview are too disparate to use the same set of concepts…
Jeff:
Then they don’t read the same thing. I don’t understand…
Casey:
But you as an author want to have a work that they can both experience.
Jeff:
Why?
Casey:
Because you do. There’s no reason… There’s no why. Authorship isn’t about why.
Jeff:
No, that’s a shitty thing because all you’ve done is write one thing for one person, another thing for another one and shit it somehow together, that’s somehow got some bilinear slider that lets you slowly get into less stupid or more…
Casey:
It’s not stupid. It’s just different. It’s like wanting to have a game where people who like to snipe and people who like to get up close and personal can play the same game…
Jeff:
Yes, and I’m saying the story…
Casey:
We do that and it’s not a bad idea.
Jeff:
I think…
Casey:
Why is that bad?
Jeff:
Because I think in a story, that’s what a story is. It’s a point of view. You’re saying that the thing…
Casey:
That’s what you think a story is but that doesn’t… No one came down from the heaven and said, “Anyone who writes a story, this is what it has to be. It has to be a point of view, one of them…”
Jeff:
No, it has to… That’s what you claim a story is.
Casey:
Who claims that?
Jeff:
No, just… What do you think it is because what you think… Like, you’re saying something, that this is better when I only see it being worse than a story that I read in a book. Like if I can’t understand, the only way that’s better for me…
Casey:
Well, maybe you won’t ever like these things but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The concept still exists, right? The ability to have a changing narrative exists whether you like it or not.
Jeff:
Here’s what I end up looking at. Alright, I have 3 years to write a book.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
Or 5 years or 10 years or a lifetime to write a book…
Casey:
Well, if you’re J.R.R. Tolkien, it’s a lifetime.
Jeff:
No matter what, it’s shittier if I have to write it in a way that I’m like, “Oh, this is going to be for any random dude.” It’s just going to feel shitty.
Casey:
So that is the argument that someone would make if they were trying to convince you to make a movie and not a game. And I don’t buy it. Yes, a movie will look and sound and play, in terms of your visuals, way, way better than any game. But the fact that the person fucking moved the character in a game totally changes things. And people willingly choose experiences that are audio and video and even narratively worse than a move because there’s something very important about experiencing the world through your own volition. And we know that it is true in everything else besides narratives and the only reason we don’t know whether it’s true for narratives yet is because we can’t build them.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
And I think once we do build them, we will find the same exact fucking thing — a shittier story will be more fun to experience when you are making the decisions than one that isn’t.
Jeff:
That is so not true.
Casey:
Why was it true for other things? Why is it true for a car chase?
Jeff:
Because it’s totally true for, like, my 4th grade reading level and I read, like, a “Choose Your Own Adventure”…
Casey:
Why isn’t it true for a car chase? Why isn’t it true for a car chase? That’s not interactive. “Choose Your Own Adventure” is not interactive. There aren’t enough decisions.
Jeff:
Okay. You’re just saying that there is a point at which the shittiness goes away because I can make more decisions.
Casey:
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with shittiness. It is that interactivity demands continual interactivity. It’s like if you had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” Quake game, Dragon Slayer, nobody liked it. You have to cross the threshold of choice density before it is actually going to be… You have to be choosing all the time.
Jeff:
Yeah, I just feel like…
Casey:
Dragon Slayer didn’t work and no one will argue with me.
Jeff:
No, no, everyone played Dragon Slayer. It was novel. And that’s what these feel like.
Casey:
We have those. We currently have those games, yeah.
Jeff:
That’s what all this feels like to me, as well, is that this is a novelty.
Casey:
And it’s not that interesting. It’s The Walking Dead is the Dragon Slayer narrative. It’s like, “Oh, I picked whether X or Y died. Yay.” Right? But we will have better than that. And when we get to the level of choice density where you are literally, minute-to-minute, choosing everything and going through the story that way, that will be a fundamentally different experience and people, I think, will love it just as much as they loved going to the ability to drive the car around a GTA and all these other things like that.
Jeff:
I don’t feel like it won’t be novel. I just think…
Casey:
I don’t think it has anything to do with novel. I think it will be good. People will want this.
Jeff:
I think compared to what you’re able to do otherwise, it will be [inaudible 57:57] and goofy unless you literally… Now, that’s not saying that some psychotic person goes through and writes a linear narrative that is so internally consistent… Like, it’s within the human mind to go create something that is that crazy like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” at some crazy depth level. But I don’t see logic or computer programming making that job fundamentally better or worse. I think that is still something that a crazy person is able to pull off but I don’t see tools ever making that part dramatically more, like, average people ending up doing that. I think you have to be a psycho.
Casey:
I think we will probably, within the next 10-20 years (so short term)…
Jeff:
Okay. So is within… By the way, so we’re on, like, about the 5th year doing this podcast so we can actually make this between, assuming that we will probably still be doing a shitty podcast in 10 years…
Casey:
It’s possibly true.
Jeff:
We’d be like, “Hey…”
Casey:
I think within the next 2 decades, we will have the first tools that have the ability to essentially do narrative amplification. So we will have the equivalent of a Doom game where you can move continuously through this game. In other words, the same way that you let you set up some walls and the player moves through them and there are enemies and thy respond to you, the fictional equivalent of that, we will have. It will be as janky as Doom was but it will be as compelling as Doom was in a narrative sense.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
We will have that.
Jeff:
Yeah. I say that never happens in any interesting way.
Casey:
It will happen in 2 decades.
Jeff:
Okay.
Casey:
After that happens, how fast we are able to get up to Grand Theft Auto 5 or whatever you’re using as your current physics-y, run around the world and shoot things, get into cars and all that… Is that the one? I don’t know. So whatever that is, whatever the current state of the art of that sort of thing is. How quickly we will get there? I don’t know.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
But we will get the first stuff quickly and people will really like it.
Jeff:
Yeah. I would say it will feel novel and…
Casey:
It will not be a case of novelty.
Jeff:
Novelty and…
Casey:
It will be novel in the sense that no one’s seen it before.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
It will be just like Doom in that sense.
Jeff:
I know. I’m saying it’s a novelty.
Casey:
But much like Doom, you will be… I can go back and play Doom right now and it’s still engaging. You will be able to go back and play one of these first games and it will be engaging.
Jeff:
Yeah, I disagree but we’ll see.
Casey:
Yes. That’s just one of the ways you’re going to be wrong over the next 20 years.
Jeff:
But now, we need to pop about 80 level ‘cos this is a whole discussion about something else.
Casey:
Yes. Right.
Jeff:
Which is separately…
Casey:
Foreign language skills…
Jeff:
Whether computer programming itself is a language or not.
Casey:
Yes. And my feeling about this is because I believe in that future, there really… If you believe in that future…
Jeff:
But that’s not what computer programming… Certainly what that magical tool is…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
Is going to be an interrogatory kind of tool that you interact with, more than write code, more than write…
Casey:
But the person who made that… In other words, I’m thinking from the perspective of people who are making these things…
Jeff:
Yeah, the people who are making it… But that is not… Oh, so you’re saying that making the tool or making the thing within the tool?
Casey:
Because the first thing, there will be no tool. It will be actually making the first ones of these will be directly in the language.
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
Eventually, you’ll figure out how to make a…
Jeff:
Right.
Casey:
A thing that something not programming can do.
Jeff:
But I’ve written a couple synthesizers. That doesn’t mean I’m a musician. That’s a different thing. If you make a tool… If you’re right and there’s a magical tool at the end of computer programming that allows us to communicate [ and does it in a new way ] doesn’t mean computer programming itself is that thing. It’s what you built it with but it’s not… Having a thing that expresses mathematical relations and logical constructs and let’s say something beyond the very procedural languages we use ‘cos we probably have to be to do complicated stuff like that…
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
Is not… Just because we can make something in it doesn’t make it that thing, right?
Casey:
Well, I definitely see what you’re getting at there and I don’t disagree with that. That’s a totally legitimate way to want to make those 2 things sustained. But in my mind, that distinction is only there as sort of a gift. It’s basically computer programmers who were able to do this new form of communication basically telling you, “We’re so nice we are packaging this up in a way that you can reuse so that you don’t have to learn how to do all these thing to do it.” And that’s fine. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was the computer language that was allowing this thing to occur. It is still the computer language that is the thing that’s making it happen. I’m helping you by not making you have to rewrite it all.
Jeff:
Well, no. That’s still conflates me making software that allows somebody to write music into me being a musician versus me just being a plumber.
Casey:
No, I’m not conflating that and I stand by… Actually, if you make the direct analogy, I agree with it which is that computers are part of musical language. There is no question about that in my mind. When somebody sits down and does some crazy FM Synth programming or whatever the hell they do to make music, the computer program was part of the language of music — no question in my mind. And I see those as being analogous. They’re exactly analogous. So I actually don’t disagree with the analogy that you made. I don’t think it makes someone a musician or not because I don’t even know what that term necessarily means because if you have multiple people who needed to speak multiple languages or do whatever to help make something happen, I don’t know how you identify who’s who.
Jeff:
Well, a musician can take something out of nothing, make music that another person experiences and have some sort of communication with.
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
Even though I have a synthesizer, I can’t make the thing that communicates.
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
So just because I enabled someone else to do that doesn’t turn me into a communicator.
Casey:
But that’s not what anyone said, right? All that’s saying is… You could make the same analogy in English. You could say, “Well, I talk just fine but I can’t write a novel.” Sure, you’re not a novelist but that doesn’t change the fact that English could have made a novel if you learned to do it. And the same thing is true of your synthesizer. You could have made that synthesizer make music. You just don’t know how or didn’t want to. So I don’t see how that analogy has anything to do with it.
Jeff:
Because the important… Well, not the important but the important point from the sense of what we’re talking in the podcast, the point of is computer programming a language…
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
Then that indirection is important.
Casey:
No, it’s just what you can do in the language, right, because not everyone can take the same language and get the same results. I can’t write a book as good as, you know, I don’t know who you want to pick for a great author, George Orwell or something, right?
Jeff:
But there’s nothing…
Casey:
That doesn’t make the language incapable of making “1984”.
Jeff:
But the language that you use there is important because otherwise, you just say, “Well, okay. If that distinction is not important, like what you can implement into a language versus what is used…” If the language that implements something is equivalent to what you’re able to communicate within the things that are programmed within that language, then that goes all the way back to our [ transistor’s ] language or, like… Because you can keep going backwards.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
And that seems silly to me. There’s a point at which communication happens and it’s whether someone else… One of our ancestors invented language. Someone invented language and then I use it now. I didn’t invent language and I use it every day and I don’t… But that doesn’t mean… And I communicate with you and I but that doesn’t mean that he’s communicating with you, right…
Casey:
So what you’re talking about is essentially… So in my mind, that’s just an efficiency question. And you can draw the bar higher if you want to. And it sounds like you are. Or you can draw it lower. So I actually don’t disagree with sort of what you said where you said our transistor’s part of the equation. Yes, I believe the entire stack is part of how… I see that entire stack as the communication medium.
Jeff:
I think you need to make some logical separation of what it means to communicate…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
Whether that’s me learning Spanish to communicate with Spanish people and me learning to communicate me being able to program something that someone else uses to communicate is a distinct difference to me. It’s not an efficiency thing. It is a different thing. It’s a different way I’m using my mind. It’s a different thing even if I wrote it and then I use to make my own music.
Casey:
Right.
Jeff:
You’re doing something else then. I’m okay calling one thing language and one thing not because we classify things all the time in those ways and conflating them all to the same thing especially in this case just to get some federal funding with [inaudible 67:14] they’re doing…
Casey:
No, but not to get funding. They’re trying to move funding…
Jeff:
Or to be secretly racist or whatever they’re trying to do seems like a real abuse of why we classify things normally.
Casey:
I don’t really think so because the problem that I have with all the things that you’re saying is you seem to be saying that something shouldn’t be considered a language just because there are some things you can do in it which stops short of the communication that can then be used by someone else to communicate.
Jeff:
No, I’m not even saying somebody else. I’m saying even me.
Casey:
Even you.
Jeff:
I’m saying that…
Casey:
Whatever that is.
Jeff:
I’m saying it’s a different process when I’m debugging and writing that program to when I’m using it and then what I’m doing there is a different thing than I do here.
Casey:
So what I’m trying to say is I don’t think that has to do with whether it is a language. That’s whether you were using it as a language at the time. But there’s a difference between whether something is a language and whether you’re using it as a language. Now, just to give an absurd example of how this could even happen in the real world separate from computer languages, I can make an artistic painting sort of thing using letterforms that I don’t understand, that don’t actually mean anything in the context. The example for this would be when someone decorates something with a Chinese symbol. They don’t know what it means. They just thought it looked pretty. It was calligraphy. That is a good example of something that was… Yet, it’s not actually being used as a language in this case but that doesn’t make it not a language in its own intrinsic quality. So the problem that I have with…
Jeff:
But it’s absolutely not a language in that context.
Casey:
In that context, right. So what I’m saying is that, yes, if you just write some code that all that code does is make some sound waves output to a speaker and you don’t feel that was musical communication, you weren’t trying to communicate with someone musically and the people who listened to it thinks it should so nothing’s happening there, then sure, was computer programming used as a language in that case? Possibly not. That does not change the fact that somebody who had a musical idea to communicate, who could only do it with something that was interactive and varying in a way that they want to trust a computer program wrote a computer program to output music directly… There was no tool involved. Hit go and it played something that they wanted. They were like, “Yes, that is what I was trying to make.” That was a language.
Jeff:
Right. But the difference was he was trying to communicate. Like, the difference is what he was doing at the time. Like when you’re writing code, and certainly, any code from a 12th grader, let’s say a college student, down…
Casey:
But we’re putting aside temporarily the New Mexico people. We’re talking about strictly the question “are computer languages languages” is the only question we’re trying to address here. Right.
Jeff:
Yes.
Casey:
And what I’m saying is it’s pretty clear that you can sit down and use it as a language so why is the fact that people are using it as not a language have any bearing on whether it is or not? Just because you can use it in a different way doesn’t make it not a language. It still has the capability to be a language in that way.
Jeff:
Well, no, because I think… The way I would think about this is even English can be used for other things other than just simply communicating, right? Like, we write math out in it. There’s a number of thing…
Casey:
Right, or decoration, like I said…
Jeff:
Yeah, or decoration…
Casey:
You like the letter A, it looked nice there or something.
Jeff:
Right. But in that context, it’s absolutely not a language, right?
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
So all I’m trying to say is computer programming can… I guess the thing I would give you is somebody could use computer programming as a way to communicate…
Casey:
Yes, that is why I say it’s a language.
Jeff:
And I would say the people that do that… Anybody that’s going to be doing that is so… That you’re talking one in a billion people are going to use it that way, right?
Casey:
You really think so?
Jeff:
Yeah.
Casey:
Alright.
Jeff:
Even among the people we know.
Casey:
That’s too bad.
Jeff:
But even among the people we know. So it’s hard to say because something’s possible to do with anything, that’s automatically also that. It’s like that weird Japanese… I mean, it’s very different…
Casey:
I would challenge the opposite way. Why can’t I sit here and say that English is not a language because someone could be using it in a way that’s not a language?
Jeff:
Because everybody does use it as a language. In computer programming…
Casey:
So for your perspective, whether something’s a language or not has nothing to do with its intrinsic ability to communicate, it has to do with the common use. Is that our central disagreement?
Jeff:
Yeah, I mean…
Casey:
You say common use, I say potential. Is that the entirety of our argument, basically?
Jeff:
Yeah, that probably is reasonable.
Casey:
Okay, right.
Jeff:
I mean, I’d have to think a little bit more of it’s only…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
I think it’s maybe not even what it’s commonly used for but what it was designed to do, like language is designed for communication specifically…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
Whereas computer programming is not designed for communicating programming. It can but it’s like, certainly, what its entire design is [inaudible 72:32] communication in almost all ways.
Casey:
Okay…
Jeff:
So I would say popularity is part of it but it’s only popular because one is a natural use of the thing and one isn’t.
Casey:
But that could change, too, ‘cos one thing that I did not bone pick in your distinction but I will bone pick it now because this is kind of an epic podcast and deserves to…
Jeff:
Where are we?
Casey:
We’re only at 1:12.
Jeff:
Oh, my God.
Casey:
We’re only an hour, 12 minutes.
Jeff:
Oh, my God. Alright, this is no good…
Casey:
It’s not even 2 hours.
Jeff:
This is not good. Alright.
Casey:
We’ve gone 2 hours before, I feel like, an hour and 45, certainly. I’ll bone pick a little bit more there which is that if you assume that there is some amount of this logistical thinking that goes into creating one of these interactive stories in the future, even using the tool, then that is programming. That’s just another computer language.
Jeff:
Say that again. Sorry. Do that one more time.
Casey:
So one of your core complaints, if I’m hearing you correctly, is that if we are taking my hypothetical where someday we do create a tool that allows you to make interactive narratives, right? You’re saying, “Well, that tool was written in a computer language.” But then you’re using the tool. And so, I feel like your argument is that it’s the tool that is the language at that point, not the computer program.
Jeff:
Well, I don’t know with this magic tool, how it would work. If you’re talking is the tool…
Casey:
I think the tool is just another kind of computer programming language is I guess my point. So it’s still a computer language and that is a language at that point. I think by even your definition because the only thing it’s used for is communication.
Jeff:
Yeah, I would definitely… I mean, you would say this, like… Hey, we have programs right now that displays subtitles, right?
Casey:
Yes, that’s true.
Jeff:
The file that is formatted in such a way for subtitles to be shown, that file is absolutely language.
Casey:
Yes, and it’s sort of a computer program. Yes.
Jeff:
I am totally fine with that. Yes.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
Yes, because that’s what its point is.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
When somebody opens fucking [inaudible 74:28] or Java in 12th grade…
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
There is no communication happening there for… That’s not what the intent is. And in fact, probably what they would initially do is try to communicate.
Casey:
Okay.
Jeff:
They would say, “Hello, world,” or they would say, “Print. Enter…”
Casey:
I can’t believe I didn’t use that as an argument.
Jeff:
“Print your name. Enter. Name. Print. Hello. Name.”
Casey:
Yes.
Jeff:
So that’s the first thing they do.
Casey:
Damn it. That’s the first thing they do.
Jeff:
And that’s it. That’s all you can do right now.
Casey:
You’re making a better argument than I am about my own argument. God damn it.
Jeff:
No. That’s 100% usage of communication that that language is available to do at that point.
Casey:
But the fact that the first [inaudible 75:08] is “hello world”…
Jeff:
You maxed it the first day and then you went on to better things because it’s not meant for that.
Casey:
You’re killing me, Jeff. You are killing me.
Jeff:
You could have made a better argument, something like a Prolog that really allows interrogatory…
Casey:
Yeah, these things I never used for a while… I’m out of my element talking about Prolog…
Jeff:
Yeah, I mean, the standard thing is like…
Casey:
Declarative…
Jeff:
Yeah. “Jeff is a boy… Whatever…” Then start to be asking questions.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
It’s still… That’s probably way closer to language than anything else but it’s still the amount of syntax and such that’s in there means it’s very non-communicative as during use.
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
You don’t feel like you’re communicating. It doesn’t even feel like writing an email. It feels like code which is in a different space. But alright… So what we have to do is we’ll post this. I will go 2 decades ahead in my Google Calendar…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
When the Google/Microsoft/Apple corp, that they all merge together…
Casey:
When Patent Incorporated…
Jeff:
Patent Co. and…
Casey:
Yeah, which incidentally, it will be all patents that will be after this because two decades from now, all the current patents will be expired. So it will be all new patents, all awesome new patents driving innovation…
Jeff:
Well, I love that… Patents… That’s the other awesome thing is, like, this temporary market thing where you’re like, “Oh, okay, is that how it works?” You’re like, “Nope,” ‘cos there’s like… They space that shit out like it’s a long time before things actually become available in any real way. Yes. Alright, I’m going to go out into Patent Co., into…
Casey:
Yeah, Patent Co. calendar…
Jeff:
2033… Will I live that long? 20 years? That’s pushing it for me.
Casey:
It may be pushing it for me, too. I don’t know.
Jeff:
It’s a totally… We have to live right. We have to eat well to see what happens here.
Casey:
We both would if we were living a life expectancy, I think we both will live 20 years.
Jeff:
We’ll make it. Yes. But that said…
Casey:
Neither of us is…
Jeff:
But if we were Lincoln, Nebraska people…
Casey:
Oh, 40 years, 60 years even…
Jeff:
We could push this thing out, no problem…
Casey:
Would happen but yeah…
Jeff:
We’re not pulling that off.
Casey:
No. We don’t have…
Jeff:
We’re from the coast…
Casey:
We don’t have the hardy farmer genes.
Jeff:
We’d burn out.
Casey:
Yeah, we got nothing.
Jeff:
We don’t eat bad food that strengthens our immune system…
Casey:
Yeah.
Jeff:
But whatever it takes to live to 106…
Casey:
I don’t know what it takes. It’s just genetics, man.
Jeff:
Fuck. We’re fucked.
Casey:
We’re fucked.
Jeff:
Alright, thanks, everybody.
Casey:
Thanks for tuning in to another exciting episode of the Jeff & Casey Show. If you have a topic you would like us to cover, don't be shy. Email podcast@JeffAndCaseyShow.com and we will add it to our topics list.
Jeff:
That’s right.
Casey:
Thanks for listening.
Jeff:
Thanks, everybody.
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casey muratori
the jeff and casey show - season 4 - episode 6
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