Scaling Conversation with Doug Engelbart. Initially used for Oregon CAP 2002 Initial comments pretty much 100% Engelbart, followed by my additions after 'for example' As you can see from Analog, Digital, Liquid I feel strongly about the importance of changes of scale.  comment


The underlying thing is this: If you change the physical scale of some device, for example, making it 1/100th the size of what it was, you cannot assume it will work. A lot of factors change so you have to sit down and re-design the whole thing.


It is the same with scaling an aircraft up in a wind tunnel. It definitively won't work. The aeronautical guys learnt this way back in school and told him about this. They told him about something called dimensionless numbers. Every measurement generally has dimensions, kg, miles, etc. so there's this amazing thing that if you take all the numbers which are significant you can arrange them in a way so all the dimensions cancel, and you get a dimensionless number, if this works, you can then depend on the numbers. Very mysterious.

A the Solid State Conference 1959 Doug was going to talk to them about the effects of scaling electronic components. He said if you change the scale you get surprises. He was met with looks of disbelief. They were engineers and physicists, how could he possibly lecture them?

Scaling people.

So he said would you notice if everything and everyone here increased by 10 in each dimension? What would happen?

Many said they wouldn't notice a thing as the angles would be the same; looking at someone bigger would look the same if you yourself was bigger. But what about weight? And strength?

If you make something 10 times bigger you get 1,000 times the volume (10 times in each of the three dimensions) and 1,000 the weight.

But the strength? In most materials strength is dependent on the cross sectional area of the material. How much stronger does the material become? Only 100 times as strong (as you are only expanding it in two dimensions).

Let me go into that a bit more: If you look at strength as how much force you can exert by, lets say, stretching a cylinder of a given material before it breaks. Fair measurement? Then you will notice that you have the same pressure at every point pulling the cylinder apart. Or you can think of it as a rope, or anything you can picture stretching. At every point where the cylinder is stretched - a force is applied - in the direction of the force, so that only leaves two dimensions for strenght. A little weird but everyone happy with that?

So for scaling a person- you, you've be 1,000 heavier but only 100 stronger. There becomes a difference of a factor of ten between weight and strength.

That is the same as if you were 10 times heavier right now without the increase in size (normal human is about 70kg - so imagine 700kg), and had the same (muscular and skeletal) strength. You may not even be able to sit on a chair. You could fall, and break bones.

So the Solid State people started to listen to the significance of scale changes.

In the world of electronics there'd be issues too, just like there would be if we were scaled. You could have trouble if you expected the device to work the same at this scale - the temperature and so on is also affected.

The scale of change of the tools out there... wow the impact. it will start changes...


for example

Scale and travel.
I was thinking about my father on the way here, when I was flying from London. My father is a business man, He works in Singapore, and London, though he also travels very frequently in the Asia on business. He calculated that during a recent year, he was in the air what amounted to 2 months out of that year. I have thought about this. From my rough calculations, he has, in his lifetime, most likely traveled further than all his ancestors for as long as we have been homo-sapiens- combined. Now that ain't unusual these days.

Scale and voice communication.
Most people in the 'rich world' these days, including kids, have mobile phone. - Everyone can conceivably connect to anyone else at any time at low cost. The Star-Trek idea of saying someone's name and the computer interpreting it as you are talking to the person and then automatically, immediately and transparently connects you to that persons 'mobile phone'/communicator, including the part when you say their name. Just ain't that far of.

The cost of a long distance call has plummeted to the point where we don't often refer to long distance calls as 'long distance'. You just call.

Marshall McLuhan points out, speed up a series of pictures and what do you get? Movies - from a simple speed scale change.

Scale of the information explosion.
"More information has been produced in the last 30 years than in the previous 5,000. About 1,000 books are published internationally every day, and the total of all printed knowledge doubles every eight years", according to Peter Large in Information Anxiety. There is now 2.5 times more information stored online than on paper but none of the Internet search engines have even cataloged 1/6th of the total information available and Internet traffic is doubling every 100 days (Interactive Week) "Everyone spoke of an information overload, but what there was in fact was a non-information overload" (Richard Saul Wurman, What-If, Could be).

The average US office worker is bombarded by 52 phone calls, 36 email messages, 23 voice mails, 18 letters, 18 interoffice letters, 14 faxes, 13 Post-Its, 8 pager messages, 4 mobile phone calls and 3 express mail deliveries every day (American Demographics - Intertec Publishing) That's a lot of communication and it's no surprise that's it becoming more and more digital. By the end of last year, there were 569 million e-mail accounts worldwide, 333 million of them in the U.S. (Messaging Online). At least 40 percent of Americans use e-mail, but only about 5 percent of the global population had an electronic mail account in 1999. Dealing with all this is taking its toll: Stress costs US industry $200-300 billion annually (Aaron Fischer "Is your career killing you?" Data Communications February 1998). The National Mental Health Association (US) reports that 75%-90% of all visits to physicians are stress related. Will the solution simply be a great new technology? The workers don't seem to think so. 40% want training to deal with the messages, only 35% receive training in the UK (Mitel).

Scale of communication - email.
Now that you can communicate with millions as easily as one, is that utopia? Well we do live it now and the results are SPAM.

Scale of computation.
A modern computer, like the laptop I wrote this on, an Apple Macintosh PowerBook G4, is capable of completing a calculation faster than the light takes to travel from its monitor to your eyeballs. An average home hard drive holds 10 Gigabytes of information (1 billion bits of information). Remember when digital desk calculators seemed impressive?

When you change the scale, you also, sometimes, transition from one state to another.

But how about this:

We are seeing the beginning of a snowball effect based on technology which becomes 68 billion times more powerful in a single human lifetime - the microchip. And then double that again, only a year and a half later, according to Moore's law, powering an Internet which is due to become more extensive than the telephone network this year if it hasn't already, doubling every 100 days (Interactive Week) adding users quicker than the worlds population is growing (7 new users a second whereas the worlds population increases by 3 people a second according to The Herald Tribune). Takes your breath away.

Not convinced about the fundamental change a change of scale brings about? Take four letters and let them connect together in just two ways. Maybe you could make a fun toy for an infant. Take enough of them however, turn them into molecules, label them C, T A & G and voila, you get the human genetic code.

Doug is quick to point out: The scale of the rate of change is also a scaling factor. If it becomes too fast we will not be able to integrate it into society.

Nothing new about this. We are just at a point of history when more people people notice.

Vannevar Bush raised the alarm in The Atlantic Monthly way back in 1945: "Thus far we seem to be worse off than ever before - for we can enormously extend the record, yet even in it's present bulk we can hardly consult it."

Marshall McLuhan saw the same problem and commented on The Best of Ideas, CBC Radio in 1967: "One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There's always more than you can cope with."

Doug puts it this way: The only thing we can help protect yourself with is if we get collectively smarter. It' not just interesting, it's a matter of the survival of humanity. 



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