There are few original ideas in this book. For 40 years I’ve had the privilege to work with brilliant researchers and innovators who will recognise what they taught me. Other ideas were collected from authors, speakers and thinkers more diligent, prolific and original than me. I hope I’ve given proper credit where I could, but apologise for those I’ve forgotten. The errors in compiling their good advice are mine alone.
I am especially grateful to remarkable and patient teachers and mentors: Jim Waite who taught me to build, Peter Andreae who taught me to write, Martin Bennett who taught me to innovate, David MacKay who taught me to calculate, Thomas Green who taught me method, David Good who taught me strategy, and Geoffrey Lloyd who taught me about boundaries.
Although too many to include, a draft of this acknowledgement recalled hundreds of colleagues at Progeni Systems, at Auckland, Massey and Victoria universities, at Cambridge Consultants, at the Hitachi Europe Advanced Software Centre, at the MRC Applied Psychology Unit and at Microsoft Research Cambridge. I’ve thought of many of you, and sorry for the omissions. I’m also grateful to those who let me move on when I asked questions that were not always helpful or productive: Jim Waite, Paul Auton, and especially Chas Church for sticking his neck out, when it became clear that I needed to move from business to an academic career.
Visiting other disciplines relies on generous hosts. I have been welcomed by anthropologists Georgina Born, James Leach, Simon Pulman Jones, Amiria Salmond and Lee Wilson; by architects Dean Hawkes, Sebastian Macmillan, François Penz and Paul Richens; by historians of science Harry Collins, Patricia Fara, Martin Kusch, Jonny Penn and Richard Staley; by curators, producers and artists Simon Biggs, Rachel Drury, Bruce Gernand, Michael Harrison, Issam Kourbaj, Giles Lane, Wayne MacGregor, Lizzie Muller, Melissa Pierce Murray, Sally Jane Norman and Jane Turner; by composers, musicians and musicologists Harry Botham, David Carter, Ian Cross, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Mark Gotham, Tom Hall, Richard Hoadley, Jonathan Impett, Andrew Lovett, Alex McLean, Thor Magnusson, Henry Stobart, Martin Rohrmeier, Gillian Wilde Ruddick, Geraint Wiggins and Alejandro Viñao.
Thank you to the founders, directors and managers of institutions that support interdisciplinary journeys: Darwin College, King’s College, the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Science and Humanities (CRASSH), the Cambridge University Moving Image Studio (CUMIS), the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technology (CARET), the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, and also to generous sponsors including EPSRC, Microsoft Research Cambridge, Nesta, Boeing and BT. Working across disciplines also require patient collaborators along an uncertain journey, and it has been especially valuable to maintain those relationships over multiple projects with Charles Boulton, Pam Burnard, Nathan Crilly, Scott deLahunta, Matthew Jones, Richie Jones, Simon Peyton Jones, Tim Regan, Abigail Sellen, Sharath Srinivasan, Alain Vuylsteke, Lee Wilson and Ken Wood.
Although hesitant to describe my work as either computer science, cognitive science or AI, the ideas presented in this book do draw heavily on the work of friends and pioneers in those fields, including Robert Biddle, Margaret Burnett, Peter Cheng, Allen Cypher, Ellen Yi-Luen Do, Yuri Engelhardt, Mark Gross, Ken Kahn, Amy Ko, Clayton Lewis, Henry Lieberman, Fabio Paterno, Brad Myers, William Newman, James Noble, John Pane, Marian Petre, Clive Richards, Ben Shneiderman and Steve Tanimoto. I am fortunate to have shared this journey with wonderful colleagues including Sam Aaron, Saeed Aghaee, Nic Bidwell, David Coyle, Addisu Damena, Neil Dodgson, Satinder Gill, Maria Gorinova, Hatice Gunes, Carl Hogsden, Frank Kavishe, Per Ola Kristensson, Matt Mahmoudi, Kingo Mchombu, Eden Melaku, Charlie Nqeisji, Cengiz Oztireli, Rob Phaal, Karl Prince, Alex Raymond, Peter Robinson, Kerry Rodden, Jennifer Rode, Ana Šemrov, Alexander Simpson, Alice Street, Mark Stringer, Tesfa Tegegne, Eleanor Toye, Martin Ujakpa, Xiaomeng Wang and Damon Wischik.
David Good has been a generous friend and collaborator over 25 years, developing the Crucible Network for Research in Interdisciplinary Design, and then Cambridge Global Challenges, with colleagues Lara Allen, Rachel Hewson, Nathan Crilly, Pauline Rose, Sara Serradas O’Holleran and Anthony Bridgen. It has also been a huge pleasure developing Cambridge Digital Humanities with Anne Alexander, Caroline Bassett, Catherine Hurley, Leonardo Impett, Mary Jacobus and Mel Leggatt.
A teacher is nothing without students, and many of these ideas have developed in conversation with talented young people including Zhen Bai, Justas Brazauskas, Nick Collins, Martyn Dade-Robertson, Lorisa Dubuc, Darren Edge, Christine Guo Yu, Moe Hadhrawi, Isak Herman, Michal Kosinski, Joycelyn Longdon, Mao Mao, Mariana Mărășoiu, Cecily Morrison, Chris Nash, Kath Powlesland, Diana Robinson, Advait Sarkar, Tanja Schomann, Bianca Schor, Alistair Stead, Sofija Stefanovic and Hanna Wallach, in addition to many great interns, undergraduate, and masters’ dissertation students. Luke Church has shared many years of this journey, working as a collaborator and co-advisor of those above, and becoming an international leader in his own right. It would be hard to disentangle the many threads throughout the book that are also a focus of his continuing work, hopefully leading to his own book as a valuable complement to this one.
I have been supported and challenged by reflective friends Robin Bunce, Geoff Cox, Bronac Ferran, Elisabeth Hill, Richard Lane, Bob Levin, Willard McCarty, David McPherson, John Norman, Arlene Oak, Matthew Postgate, Mark Simos, Bill Thompson and Alison Wood. It has also been a privilege to interact with critical thinkers who are leaders in their own fields, including Rachel Adams, Jeff Bardzell, Shaowen Bardzell, Mark Blythe, Paul Dourish, Sally Fincher, Richard Harper, Jofish Kaye, Ann Light, John Naughton, Chris Newfield and Marilyn Strathern.
I am very grateful to Noah Springer and the team at MIT Press, and to the many readers giving feedback on early drafts, including especially substantial advice from Helen Arnold, Marios Constantinides, David Yu-Tung Hui, Emma Kallina, Michael Morehouse, Anica Alvarez Nishio, Pamela Peter-Agbia, Advait Sarkar, Ben Thurbon, Philip Wadler, Gary Walkow, and anonymous reviewers. Thank you to Sumit Gulwani, Allen Cypher and Andy Rice for their time and insight as interviewees.
Thank you to Helen and Elizabeth. I love you both more than I can say, and apologise for the many days that could have been spent with you instead of writing.
Craft is the essence - both technical and social - and I owe those skills to my parents Frank and Clare. Thank you Mum and Dad for everything.
Moral Codes cover image created by the author using PRISMA style transfer application (“MIchael” filter), trained using original artwork from uncredited artists. Input to PRISMA was in part generated using DALL-E Mini, also trained using original artwork from uncredited artists. Original design concept, copyright in original prompt text and curation by Alan Blackwell © 2022. For relevant algorithms see Gatys, L. A., Ecker, A. S., & Bethge, M. (2015). A neural algorithm of artistic style. arXiv preprint arXiv:1508.06576, and Dayma, B., Patil, S., Cuenca, P., Saifullah, K., Abraham, T., Lê Khắc, P., Melas, L., & Ghosh, R. (2021). DALL·E Mini (Version v0.1-alpha)
Chapter 2 preview image: screenshot from Allen Cypher’s Eager prototype, originally published in Allen Cypher, Ed. Watch what I do: programming by demonstration. MIT press, 1993.
Chapter 3 preview image: book covers of Programming in Python by Mark Lutz, and Pattern Recognition and Machine Leaning by Chris Bishop.
Chapter 4 preview image: enlarged pixels from an 8 point rendering of the parrot emoji character, prepared by the author.
Chapter 5 preview image: Image generated using StableDiffusion v1.5 on NightCafe, trained using original artwork from uncredited artists. Original design concept, copyright in prompt text and curation by Anne Alexander. Prompt constructed in dialogue with ChatGPT, exploring characters for a novel set in a Cambridge college, where the protagonists are attending a workshop on AI and Creative Writing. Generated profile for a character named only as “Alan,” elaborated by ChatGPT as “Alan Green […] a brilliant but eccentric professor known for his unorthodox teaching methods and unconventional theories. He has a disheveled appearance, thick-rimmed glasses, and a perpetually absent-minded demeanor. Alan's mind is a labyrinth of ideas and connections, and he often provides unexpected insights that prove invaluable to solving the mysteries at hand”.
Chapter 6 preview image: Smalltalk 76 screen, sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smalltalk-76.blowup.png
Chapter 6 includes images from Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad thesis, in an electronic edition prepared by Alan Blackwell and Kerry Rodden. Scanned by Kerry Rodden with permission from original photographs by Ivan Sutherland. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SketchpadDissertation-Fig1-2.tif
Chapter 7 preview image: the Wikimedia Commons logo, sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain ™ Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Commons-logo.svg
Chapter 8 preview image: detail from a screenshot of Advait Sarkar’s Braincel system, used with permission from Advait Sarkar.
Chapter 8 images are screenshots of research prototypes, used with permission of the authors Mariana Mărășoiu, Advait Sarkar, and Alan Blackwell as credited in the captions.
Chapter 9 preview image: composite of individual icons from iOS7 release publicity, prepared by the author.
Chapter 10 preview image: detail from image of a wood chisel, sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Photograph by Randy C. Bunney, released into the public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wood_chisel.JPG
Chapter 11 preview image: Generated using StableDiffusion, trained using original artwork from uncredited artists. Original prompt “A parrot writing software code,” and curation by Alan Blackwell © 2023
Chapter 12 preview image: generated using DALL-E Mini, trained using original artwork from uncredited artists. Original prompt “c-major tune piano keys” and curation by Alan Blackwell © 2022
Chapter 12 images are generated by software malfunction of a) interaction between Google Slides and the Apple Safari browser, as produced by the work of uncredited programmers, and b) interaction between Microsoft Teams, internet infrastructure and unknown webcam drivers, as produced by the work of uncredited programmers. Original image curation by the author.
Chapter 13 preview image: Ethiopian orthodox priest holding a manuscript from the treasury of the Church of Narga Selassie, Dek Island, Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Photograph sourced from Wikimedia commons, credited to A. Davey from Where I Live Now: Pacific Northwest. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Displaying_an_Ethiopian_Manuscript_(2400636361).jpg
Chapter 14 preview image: Public domain image (CC0) sourced from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1444575
Chapter 15 preview image: Image from the pamphlet by Joseph Racknitz (1789) Ueber den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen, nebst einer Abbildung und Beschreibung seiner Sprachmachine, collection of Humboldt University Library. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons, public domain (CC0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Racknitz_-_The_Turk_3.jpg
Appendix preview image: Frame grab from an animated movie created using the author’s Palimpsest programming language during the Covid-19 pandemic, for use as a live virtual background in Zoom sessions. The looped animation gradually manipulated an actual photograph of a bookshelf in my house, blurring the titles of the books to make them less readable, while subtly overlaying a watermark-like shadow, taken from a road sign warning of glacier melts in the South Island of New Zealand.
Preview image for these credits: mosaic generated by the author using images captured by Casio WQV-1 wrist camera (product released in 2000, 4-bit grayscale 120x120 pixel image)
Author profile image on the PubPub site: self-portrait by the author, created using “intelligent” image enhancement features of Huawei P20 smartphone. Shirt from the author’s large collection of designs by ‘underground club wear label’ yd Australia.
Alan Blackwell is Professor of Interdisciplinary Design in the Cambridge University department of Computer Science and Technology (the “Computer Lab”). He has been designing programming languages since 1983, and carrying out research into Artificial Intelligence since 1985. He originally studied engineering, practising with professional certification in his home country Aotearoa New Zealand, before completing further degrees in Computer Science and Experimental Psychology. His multi-disciplinary interests have included an undergraduate major in comparative religion and 40 years as an orchestral musician. He has developed and taught university courses in Software Design and Software Engineering, Interaction with Machine Learning, Usability of Programming Languages, Human-Computer Interaction, Computer Music, and Theories of Socio-Digital Interaction. He is a Fellow of Darwin College Cambridge, co-founder with David Good of the Crucible Network for research in Interdisciplinary Design, and with David and Lara Allen the Global Challenges strategic research initiative of the University of Cambridge.