David Gelernter is a computer scientist who hates computers but wants to change that, reports Alexandra Wolfe in The Wall Street Journal (11/30/13). A Yale University professor, David says he refuses to play with computers and claims that whatever success he’s had in the field is because he is such a bad fit for his calling. The only reason he became a computer scientist was because of "a passage in the Talmud saying it’s an obligation to do something practical in addition to studying Torah." He now considers this a "silly decision … made in a bout of ideological fervor."

David’s basic complaint is that computers aren’t logical. "I want software to work in 30 seconds," he says. He’s actually wanted it to work in 30 seconds since the mid-1990s, when he launched a company called Mirror Worlds. He hoped to commercialize software he developed at Yale that "created a desktop format that allowed users to look up a thread through their entire history. Before an appointment with a colleague, for example, the user could hit a button that would pull up every interaction, information exchange and document that related to that person and then list them in narrative order."

When he tested the software among employees of his 30-person company, he enabled them to see each other’s stories. One of them "posted a picture of her engagement ring," and others added "photographs of birds and scanned takeout menus … much like Facebook and Twitter streams today.” The venture failed, but not before Steve Jobs saw it, and allegedly borrowed some of its features (this is now in litigation). David’s son is now trying to revive the software with a new company called Lifestreams, and plans to re-launch it in early 2014, initially among families, Little League teams, and college classes.


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