The democratization of technologies always transforms us. Consider the enormous benefits from ubiquitous access to the automobile, air travel, and the personal computer. When the majority has access to technology new possibilities emerge, potential increases, and lives are improved. But, is access the whole story?
At the first Hackers Conference in 1984 Stewart Brand told Steve Wozniak, “Information wants to be free.” The initial spark created by the printing press gave rise to books, periodicals, radio, television, and the Internet. Now we’re reaching the point where the free nature of information is empowering us in ways we never imagined at a pace that we’re still adjusting to.
Are you a consumer or a creator?
The vast majority of us are consumers of information and technology—not makers. We use a personal computer, but can we program it? We use apps but do we have the ability create them or hack them to make them work better?
Computer programming will spark creative advance in humanity
There is an emergent conversation about the potential to make programming accessible to everyone and how democratizing the ability to code will spark the most creative advance in human history. Major players like Code.org and many others are combining their voices to create a movement. Their message is that programming can be learned, in the future everyone will need to know how to program a computer, and our place in the world depends on the democratization of programming.
Play-i, a Silicon Valley startup, is one such champion for the cause. CEO and co-founder Vikas Gupta believes this about coding:
“It’s wonderful that the conversation is happening right now. But, if I’m optimistic and say there are maybe one million software developers in the U.S., out of a population of 314 million, we have fewer than one-half-of-one-percent who know how to code. Combine that with the fact that currently only nine out of 50 states have fully adopted computer science standards at the high school level and you quickly realize that driving programming top-down through our educational system isn’t going to meet our urgent need.”
Play-i inspires learning through “Hacking Play”
In other words, Play-i is much too impatient to wait for that to happen. So, they’re taking a bottoms-up approach—and putting a solution directly into the hands of 5-8 year olds that millions, if not most, parents can afford at less than a hundred dollars.
Their approach is based on innovations in tangible computing. It turns out that just as children can learn American Sign Language before they can speak, children can also learn to program before they can write code on a keyboard.
Kids coding can change the world!
The startup has created a new programming language appropriate for young kids to use on touch devices. The company has also developed sophisticated educational robots for kids to play with. The programming environment teaches them programming concepts as they play with the robot.
There have been educational products in the past, and even a couple of programming languages targeted at children. Gupta believes his robots are a significant step forward because they are simple and fun to play with, they deliver a wide spectrum of skills to learn and it’s the first product truly accessible for a 5 year old.
Starting from a base of one million software programmers, an order of magnitude gets us to ten million, or about 3% of our population. Two orders of magnitude means 100 million programmers but still only about a third of the population—significantly better than Pareto but still a clear minority.
A blended top-down/bottoms-up approach is inevitable but one thing is certain, someone’s children will be creating the technology the rest of us will use to conduct our daily lives. If the current top-down trend prevails the winner might be the U.S., but it’s just as likely to be India, China, or even Estonia. It Play-i succeeds it could possibly be everyone.
Play-i is “Hacking Play” and are still in development phase. They are rolling out a Kickstarter campaign later this year. If you want to stay up to date with their developments, make sure to connect with them on Play-i.com.
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