Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points" explained

"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points"

I didn't understand what alan kay meant by this for a long time. The bit about IQ points distracted me because it's not politically correct to talk about IQ as a way to measure intelligence.

So, maybe this slogan could be improved?

What he is saying is that if we can look at things in new and different ways (multiple representations), then we will understand them much better. If we use the computer in this way (as a rich, powerful medium rather than a mere tool for word and number crunching) then remarkable things will start to happen. Hence, the computer revolution hasn't really happened yet.

I found a couple explanations of this slogan by alan kay on the web. It becomes a lot more powerful when he adds the historical context, in Roman time you had to be very smart to multiply two numbers together.

explanation one:
At PARC we had a slogan: "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points." It was based on a few things from the past like how smart you had to be in Roman times to multiply two numbers together; only geniuses did it. We haven't gotten any smarter, we've just changed our representation system. We think better generally by inventing better representations; that's something that we as computer scientists recognize as one of the main things that we try to do
. explanation two:
what is special about the computer is analogous to and an advance on what was special about writing and then printing. It's not about automating past forms that has the big impact, but as McLuhan pointed out, when you are able to change the nature of representation and argumentation, those who learn these new ways will wind up to be qualtitatively different and better thinkers, and this will (usually) help advance our limited conceptions of civilization

Reference (for later):
Minsky explains the same concept better in 18.8 Mathematics made Hard (Society of Mind)


Unknown said...

Not so much multiple representations as better representations. I bet the Romans were worse mathematicians than the Arabs.


They were thinking in Cuisenaire Rods of units of 1, 5 &10, add a bit on or take away 1 for 4 or 9.

Their concepts of numbers were formed in the symbol systems they were using.

We think in language and to a lesser extent in other symbol systems such as mathematics. Programming is another language of symbols.

They are more than a means of communication, they are the building blocks that higher order thought is made with.

You can get a beer out of the fridge without using speech in your head but you can't analyse concepts such as we are discussing here without processing the ideas as speech in your head, in your native tongue.

The better your symbol systems are the better you can think

Bill Kerr said...

Great point about the difficulties of multiplying in Roman Numerals Tony.

I felt rusty about roman numerals but found this website that has a converter, calculator and a test - and practised them for a bit

Also this site has an explanation of how the romans used fractions

Seymour Papert and Alan Kay are onto something important about the importance of maths and how to make it more meaningful through the use of logo and squeak. Is this software the best way to do it? This is one of the reasons I'm having a look at squeak. Kay talks a fair bit about how to teach the concepts of calculus to young children.

Rems said...

"If we use the computer in this way (as a rich, powerful medium rather than a mere tool for word and number crunching) then remarkable things will start to happen. Hence, the computer revolution hasn't really happened yet."

Well it is already happening... Many people around the globe use computers for different purposes but it the background of it all, computers do quite all the time the same things, calculations.
Back in time it used to be only for calculations now it is being used for image processing, video processing, games and many more things. It evolved from a calculator to much more.

Bill Kerr said...

There is some discussion of and voting about this 2006 blogpost at Hacker News. It's currently on page 2, #37. The comment id is

Gath-Gealaich said...

Your point about Roman numerals is moot because the Romans almost exclusively used the abacus. They were not dependent on the Roman notation for calculations, only for writing down the results.