Author: David Bryant (@davidbryant), Google Creative Lab, NYC
Disclaimer: David’s opinions are not necessarily those of Google Inc (editor’s note: BBH does advertising work on behalf of various Google products).
Human beings have spent around 2 million years working with physical objects in physical space. We are hard-wired to enjoy throwing things into the air, at animals and at each other because mastery of these skills has given us a huge evolutionary advantage.
We understand the inter-relationships between weight, inertia, texture, tensile strength, brittleness, velocity and gravity so well, we’ve even given it another name. We call it instinct.
When we cross the road in front of a car, we are judging the speed of the car and the width of the road and performing fairly complex calculus in the process. Some would say that we are not really doing the calculations in this case – we are simply using instinct.
Calling this process ‘instinct’ isn’t very helpful because it doesn’t explain anything. We’re simply renaming the observation, rather than attempting to explain it.
The truth is the calculations do get done. We use a neural-based learning system rather than a set of solvable equations but the calculation does happen. It’s part of our operating system.
Only after Humans had being throwing things around for a couple of million years, could we get down to the slow business of developing useful abstract notions. Like a positional system of mathematics, time, complex numbers, algebra. These are all things that are not hardwired. On the contrary they are remarkably counter-intuitive to our operating system and have taken centuries of trial and error to grasp them.
With these abstract notions we created computers, and interestingly, computers have evolved towards us, in completely the opposite direction. They started life as deeply abstract calculation engines. Nowadays, with rich graphical interfaces, touch screens, large icons and finger control they are increasingly feeling like physical objects.