HARC

A peek into the Human Advancement Research Community.

HARC stands for Human Advancement Research Community. It’s a long range research group in computing funded by Y Combinator Research. It includes people like Alan Kay, Dan Ingalls, Bret Victor, Chaim Gingold and Toby Schachman, amongst many others I'd be excited to learn more about.

HARC is inspired by the early ARPA initiative from the 1960s: to be a high-risk, high-gain, far out research fund for computing related areas.

Götz Bachmann, Professor for Digital Cultures at the Institute for Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media in Lüneburg, Germany, wrote an article about the research project on LIMN, a scholarly journal and art magazine. Here is the link for the article: Utopian Hacks.

This article is the first I saw relating some inside work happening at HARC. Bachmann specifically targets Bret Victor’s research group currently named “Realtalk”. Here is a selection of insightful quotes from the article:

Regarding HARC overall goal:

The overall goal is to create a rupture of a fundamental kind, a jump in technology equivalent to the jump in the 1960s and early 1970s when the quadruple introduction of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the graphical user interface, and the Internet revolutionized what computing could be by turning the computer into a medium.

Turning computing into media was already in the 1960s and 1970s meant to work with technology against technology: by using new computational capabilities, a medium was carved out that complies less with perceptions at the time of what computing is, and more with what a medium that forms a dynamic version of paper could look like.

Regarding Alan Kay’s research in the 1970s about programming and the object orientation idea (which is not what current object oriented programming languages are about):

The first iterations of Smalltalk [a programming language created by Alan Kay and his group] were experiments in object orientation that aimed to model all programming from scratch after a distributed system of message passing. Later versions gave up on this, and after an initial phase of success, Smalltalk eventually lost the battle over the dominant form of object orientation to the likes of C++ and Java.

The work of Alan Kay and his “Learning Research Group” can thus be seen as both a lost holy grail of computing before it was spoiled by a model of computing as capitalism cast in hard.

Kay’s work can be seen as a benchmark in radical engineering, as such enabling us to critique the stalemate and possible decline in quality of most currently available imaginaries about technologies.

About HARC Realtalk research group:

The group is constructing a series of operating systems for a spatial dynamic medium, each building on the experiences of building the last one, and each taking roughly two years to build. The current OS is named “Realtalk” and its predecessor was called “Hypercard in the World” (both names pay respect to historical, heterodox programming environments: Smalltalk in the 1970s and Hypercard in the 1980s).

As if to echo Nietzsche’s [...], a larger goal is to make new thoughts possible, which have until now remained “unthinkable” due to contemporary media’s inadequacies.

Enhanced forms of embodied cognition, and better ways of cooperative generation of ideas could cure the loneliness and pain that are often part of deep thought.

And a final thought-provoking reminder from some HARC researchers point of view:

The radical engineers would also be the first to state that the same interim solutions, if stopped in their development and reified too early, are potential sources of hacks in the derogatory sense. The latter is, according to their stories, exactly what happened when, 40 years ago, the prototypes left the labs too soon, and entered the world of Apple, IBM, and Microsoft, producing the accumulation of bad decisions that led to a world where people stare at smartphones.

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