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Chaos Manor Special Reports

Dolphins, Whales, and Humans


Francis Jeffrey

Monday, December 12, 2005

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I first met Francis Jeffrey at a party at his Malibu beach house; I am not sure how I came to be invited to it. It was probably due to our mutual friend  Dr. Fiorella Terenzi, an astrophysicist who does serious work as well as popularizations: her space music albums deservedly sell well, and she has done well attended presentations at major conventions for a decade. But that's another story.

Over the years I have been to a dozen of Francis's parties, and there hasn't been a dull moment: they are populated with a lot of bright people who would rather talk than drink too much, in a near perfect location. Francis belongs in a fairly small category of highly innovative people I have been privileged to know: Minsky, Fredkin, Ted Nelson, John McCarthy come to mind with a couple of dozen others.

Francis Jeffrey runs Elfnet and has developed a lot of interesting software; a better description would be an interesting new concept in software, as innovative as Ted Nelson's original notions. I've written about that in the column and will again. In late March he sent me a letter about his latest writing; the notion was intriguing, and I have got his permission to print it here.

 Did Dolphins contribute the new Software Paradigm for the 21st Century? 

( From a personal letter by Francis Jeffrey, Spring Equinox, 2000 )

Has anyone ever ask you what the Dolphins and Whales contribute to the human world (other than good feelings when we see them) ?

Some years ago I founded three companies to create a fundamentally new way of building software for network communications and interaction (including web sites, multi-media portals, interactive televisions, and wireless personal communicators), which originated in the work I was doing with dolphins at John Lilly's second research lab: In designing software to model their communications, I realized they were continuously maintaining lines of communication and multiple-relationships while moving in the water. This image became my essential model for everything that follows.

My projection of the need for a NEW and BETTER approach, has now been totally validated by the way current software strains and groans (and frequently breaks) under the load of exponentially growing Internet and Web, and also the new demands created by new media interactive devices. But the software industry, tangled in its own history of unnecessary complications, lags far behind computer and network technology--It seems to me to be in the Dark Ages when it comes to program construction.

In my work at John's lab, the immediate presence of the dolphins was not only inspiring, but also they pushed me into thinking about communication from a multi-species point of view, instead of from inside the usual "box" limited to human assumptions, conventions, traditions and the rather narrow scope and span of attention encouraged by our clue-less and disposable mass culture. I realized that the way humans do software is hideously messy. Software projects tend to cost many times what they need to, while the result is not only unreliable, but difficult to maintain and repair, or to evolve and adapt into something better without breaking in the process. The result of my rethinking was something fantastically cleaner and clearer. And the result of THAT is reduction in production cost and freeing of creative flow!

When I started, before Internet-Web became popular, it was clear to me that the network-world would be growing rapidly (in directions nobody could exactly predict), and that current software methods would be severely strained by the expected growth, and by escalating demands for more engaging and interactive "content" and relationships.

Software methods have become so complicated and boring to learn that practically nobody can master them effectively anymore. The systems do not make plain sense, are stressful to use, and lower intelligence rather than raising it. In other words, people working in this field, and children learning it, are forced to fit themselves into increasingly complicated -- but essentially meaningless -- mazes of boxes within boxes.

As a result of throwing people this long, steep and bumpy "learning curve," there is now an extreme shortage of qualified engineers and programmers. This labor shortage is driving up costs and stalling projects. Eventually, new start-ups will be locked out, as in any capital-intensive business (like auto-making); but even huge corporations with unlimited finances often cannot complete new projects, or maintain current systems without thousands of "bugs" that they cannot fix. For example, Microsoft, with many billions, and with any expert it wants to hire, has never been able to get Windows NT to work nearly as well as their glossy PR image would suggest, so the industry is backing away from them.

My group took a totally new approach to building software based on directly modeling relationships and programming interactions. We represent structures and relationships structurally, as a network of connections. We have eliminated the "language" or pseudo-language of traditional programming from the central role of representing relationships and processes--a role for which it was only awkwardly suited. The old software technology is what I would call "mechanistic" and "bureaucratic" and follows models belonging to the 19th century and the old industrial revolution. Basic ideas about how to build software were frozen soon after the end of World War II, at about the time when the first computers were designed with military uses and weapons-testing in mind. This old technology model, which has all to do with counting, filing, repetition, categories and "number-crunching", and which relies on so-called "programming languages", in fact has little to do with what computers are mostly used for today:-- interactivity, networking among people and organizations, multi-media production and presentation, transactions and advertising, communication and building relationships. The "computer languages" themselves are a major barrier to programming. They are not real languages, but narrow and arbitrary codes people must learn--and for no good reason, because all they are doing is translating real-life situations (relationships, structures, pictures, stories) into codes of typed words and symbols, which are far less expressive than the English language, and hard for people to understand. (It's hard enough to be expressive in a real language, like English! Even the person who writes a program, often can't understand it the following day! And the result of all this tortured labor has no benefit to computers either, since the computers themselves actually contain representations of relationships and connections--plus a little arithmetic--and have no concept of "programming languages," or languages of any kind.)

At ELFNET (R), we build software in a form that corresponds with the form of the networks themselves, but also in a way that is ideally and essentially DYNAMICAL, modeled on the image I had of Dolphins, as I related above. A dynamical network, coincidentally, corresponds with the way our brains are connected internally, and is the very model we took from the Dolphins' relationships communicating in the water, in "pods" (ie, the Dolphins' tribes or parties). And what could be more appropriate, simpler or easier for expressing a world of ideas and images in a world of externalized communication networks? Thus we are closer to the ideal of the GLOBAL BRAIN --and also closer to our own brains' way of operating, which tends to make it intuitively graspable-- how to use it to do whatever you want to do with communication-computers. With this approach, you can build things like web sites or multi-media, multi-channel "portals" directly and immediately, and modify them while they are running, providing immediate feedback to judge the effect of your changes. Personnel without special training in "programming languages" can actually do it themselves, working to express themselves in the fields they know best, rather than struggling to work with traditional programming specializations, relying of increasingly scarce experts.

The range of application of our new programming methods is vast, and extends beyond the focus area of network communications and interactive presentation of "content" and "e-commerce". But if we can simply do things on network servers some 2 or 3 times more efficiently and easily at first (and eventually as perfected, perhaps 10 or 100 time more efficiently), then a modest market penetration by our methods of 10 percent will translate into about $1-Trillion in revenues through the year 2005, due to the rapid growth of on-line activity and its extension into all areas of life.

I think that from your own basic businesses, you are familiar with how quickly product performance and customer satisfaction must follow on advertising images and promises: Things happen very fast, there is lots of feedback, it is highly competitive in a positive sense, and so products evolve and adapt. But in the software business it has not been this way at all, lately. There is a huge gap between what is promised and what is delivered; everyone is used-to and cynical about this, and some players such as Microsoft have gotten away with "murder", so far, because of growth and change faster than anyone could track real performance, benefit and cost.

Despite all the hype about "e-business", "virtual reality", and the so-called "cyberspace", etc., the reality of the commercial NEW MEDIA is actually rather crude and clunky as it appears to the user/consumer. (And it is frustrating and tedious and costly as it appears to programmers and engineers and entrepreneurs.) Existing software technology and methods, based on ideas that were fresh 50 years ago when computers were first invented, simply cannot cross the gap between promise and delivery. So we conclude that as these discrepancies--and their enormous costs are called to account, the need for better methods will be recognized and demand for our system will soar.

In addition to packages for the server-side of networking, such as our eLPHIN, [TM] and the general-purpose programming system called eLFI, (R) (Patents Published &; Patents Pending) we have designed focused packages of systems/trademarks and projects/servicemarks, including-- ADVERTEASING [TM] , a way of allowing on-line shoppers (and library-browsers) to to freely express interest in products and buying opportunities (or in links to details, references and related material) without breaking the flow of the browsing (reading) experience. The flow and brand-identity of new-media programs, such as interactive TV (or the coherence, integrity and title of traditionally structured publications such as books and magazines) is preserved when translated into on-line presentation on interactive media channels, including the Internet Web. (Patents Pending) HealthSea [TM], an environmental-health information sharing and communication resource, based on the theme of "How the Sea and its inhabitants can help us, and what we can do to help them." Includes marketing tie-in with ecologically sound, sustainable and dolphin-friendly health and beauty products from the oceans, and with organizations dedicated to protection of Dolphins, Whales and their habitat. (Conceived and organized in conjunction with the Great Whales Foundation). This is an example of "An Elfnet," a highly personalized on-line service whose design goals originally motivated the creation of the ELFNET technology for lucid and effective programming. And, in cooperation with the Great Whales Foundation and EarthTrust, a project to provide under-water computer screens and interfaces to dolphins, which they can use to communicate over distances, and also to demonstrate that they are capable of PROGRAMMING using our elegant and easy program-building system through its graphical and acoustic-3D interfaces.

That's my introduction to my main projects. The technical details are already worked out, prototypes have been thoroughly tested, and patents filed around the world (the first one is about to be issued in the US). At present I am engaged in building a marketing/communications/PR organization capable of making this new way of programming easily and universally available to everyone, in the shortest time, corresponding to the exponential growth expected and necessary for an innovation that is urgently needed and can change the world in positive ways. So that's the story! --francis

PS: Weird, isn't it, that the hottest thing happening in the human world, and its financial markets today, is the network-communications use of computers, but that the software used is completely dated (" the 1950s, man...") and long has seemed to me (with 32 years professional experience) like something out of the Dark Ages, tormenting its users and programmers. Our trademarks eLPHIN and ELFNET, with the fins and fluke of our corporate logo design, represent, in addition to the DYNAMISM I mentioned above, the fact that Dolphins &; Whales (and elephants too!) have had dynamical sound/image-based communication networks for millions of years before humans invented them in the 20th Century. Once I quipped to my old pal Ted Turner that his CNN was not the FIRST global news network, which he didn't mind so much because he loves to watch Whales.

 COPYRIGHT (c) 2000 by ELFNET (R), inc.]