“He was spoilt from childhood by the Future, which he mastered rather early and apparently without great difficulty.” When we think of developers in AI, machine learning, and computer language creation, these lines may apply. The above quote is about Georgian poet Mayakovsky, from Pasternak’s memoir, Safe Conduct. Although Mayakovsky didn’t write code, he wanted to help pull the world into a boldly techno, yet tender, future he imagined.
“He was spoilt from childhood by the Future, which he mastered rather early and apparently without great difficulty.”
Van Rossum wanted a future that valued a coders’ time more than that of the machine. He knew that in many ways computer languages were shaped by the economics of the mainframe days. “The mainframe is a machine that costs many millions of dollars, and the combined pay of all those programmers is peanuts compared to the cost of the mainframe,” he says. This mainframe cost affected computer language development. In contrast, Python prioritizes coders’ ease. “In Python, every symbol you type is essential,” says Van Rossum. The ease of Python creates more space in a developer’s mind. That extra space makes room for imagination.
Machine learning engineer Artem Ponomarev says of Python, “Sometimes it’s like I’m in a Cyber version of the Rosetta stone — using an intermingling of a fairy tale language, which is Python, and our human language.”
Van Rossum believes we think visually as well as linguistically, and designed Python to reduce visual noise. “Python for me is incredibly visual,” he says. “When I read Python, I definitely see it as a two-dimensional structure, rather than one-dimensional, like language.” That is probably because Python uses indentation for grouping, but probably also because my mind just likes thinking visually.” If Python works more like we think, that should add to it’s ease and create space for imaginative freedom. Sometimes it almost reaches ASCII art.
“I talked to a lot of developers who absolutely love Python. Nearly all said something like ‘Python is beautiful,” says CODERS author Clive Thompson. “They loved its readability — they found that it was far easier to glance at Python code and see its intent. Shorn of curly brackets, indented in elegant visual shelves, anything written in Python really looks like modern poetry.”
Coding in Python, which was named after the comedy troupe Monty Python, can feel as if you’re solving a puzzle where you keep adding pieces. But like an 8 year-old boy running through the redwoods looking for mountain lions, you can always retrace your steps back then move in a new direction. (I promise our wild boy, galloping past in his muddy jeans, won’t be attacked by a mountain lion!) There are many ways to program the same thing in python that work. But with experience you ultimately find your (the?) one perfect way. So, you get coding fast, with bursts of wild freedom, and learn how to improve as you go. There’s more space for thinking and occasional lightning crackles of creativity. In the best circumstances, more new ideas find their form in code.
“You primarily write your code to communicate with other coders, and, to a lesser extent, to impose your will on the computer.”
Developers use code to relate to each other and participate in a perpetual conference with computer scientists, mathematicians, and thinkers of the past and future. Van Rossum says, “You primarily write your code to communicate with other coders, and, to a lesser extent, to impose your will on the computer.” When a new language brings mind space and ease, ideas form and spread faster, and ideas change things. “We have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes,” wrote Rilke. “We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens.”
The Future of technology lives in many, including many coders. That Future lives in you. How will you transform it?