Kenneth Friedman
2015 Questions, Looking For Answers

These are my "Questions" from 2015. An updated version can be found here.

These are my open questions. This is an attempt to get to the root of many problems in and around the "tech" world. Eventually, I want solutions to these problems, or I want to create solutions to these problems. If you are also interested in these problems (or you have some answers), let's talk.

How can people more easily collaborate on complex problems?
Computers have made communication much faster—they have brought geographically separated people together. However, it's done very little to improve collaboration. Two people working on a single complex problem should be able to accomplish more than the sum of their individual work. Today's computers don't allow for that. Google Docs is a red herring: Google Docs allows to people to edit a document at the same time. But a collaborative interface needs to let two people think about a concept at the same time.
How can we better organize thoughts and notes on computers?
A lot of people still take notes on paper (either for school work, to-do lists, shopping lists, or simply thinking). One of the big reasons, I believe, is because the system for categorizing and organizing the notes is not very good. How can we better arrange this information so that it is both fast and easily accessible/searchable/scannable? File this one under "Kill Paper".
How can computers go beyond the abilities of paper?
Screens can be thought of as a superset of paper. Screens should be able to do everything paper can, and more. The screens that look most like paper are tablets, so let's start there. We should be able to do more with the notes we create on a tablet. Currently, they can't. Tablets don't understand what we write down, and what we write down is static (it can be erased, but it can't be manipulated). How can we fix this? File this under "Kill Paper", as well.
How computer interfaces feel frictionless and fluid?
Opening an individual app to complete a single task is great when one particular thing needs to be done quickly without distraction. For example, opening Uber and pressing a single button to request a ride feels seamless. But the app concept quickly breaks down when you want to do more than one thing. Have you ever taken a photo, edited it, and shared it with someone? Using three apps to complete 3 simple steps does not feel frictionless. There may be a few products that combine these 3 steps into a single app. But it's still only a single task. The concept of siloed apps does not scale. What paradigms can make interfaces fluid.
How can people pass the time in more interesting and thought provoking ways?
Take a look at a line of people. They are probably using their phone, and they are probably on a social network. Social networks are great for catching up with what's happening in the world, and how your friends are doing. But if you check your networks more than a couple times a day, you will quickly run out of new content. Often, there's not enough time to read an article or watch a video while waiting around. What can be created that is entertaining enough to think about using, but is more thought provoking and interesting than checking Facebook again?
What is the high level language of the future, and what features does it have?
Many people have described Lisp as the greatest programming language ever created. It's very high level (powerful), and has features that no other language can match. However, Lisp was developed in 1958, and is nearly 60 years old. It feels short sighted to think that Lisp is perfect, so what's next? What language will replace it as king of the computing world?
How can we make technology simplify our lives and allow us more freedom?
Many pieces of software are simply database editors. I'm as guilty of this as anyone: my College Application Organizer is a glorified spreadsheet. But having 100s of proprietary database editors for single tasks is a terrible idea. It doesn't simplify people's lives, it just adds to the complexity and noise. How can we push software to actually simplify things, allowing people to focus on what they really want to be doing?
How can we move past the PARC User Interface?
Xerox PARC developed almost all of the paradigms we use today in the '70s. Windowing, the personal computer, the tablet, and modern UI elements were all concieved of or developed at PARC. Decades later, we are still moving mice to manipulate windows on screens. Someone who stopped using a computer in 1984 would feel right at home on today's machines. While hardware elements have been making exponential progress since the golden age of PARC, the human-computer interface has stood still.