Charles Chamberlain

Research Mode 🧬⚗️


Here's another quick professional update!

Since I moved on from working on Birch, I've been reading a lot, thinking a lot, and chatting with people about these thoughts. I've been calling this "Research Mode": trying to improve my understanding of the world and explore the existing literature that relates to my interests.

Whereas I was "heads down" throughout the work on Birch, I've been very "heads up" as of late. This has been fun! I'm a pretty social person and I have found working alone, without the kind of community one gets from a normal job, to be the most challenging part of entrepreneurship. I've enjoyed making an effort recently to expand my social sphere! This mostly involved cold-messaging people working on related things, and then following leads from there. Shout out to the future of coding, hypertalk, and betaworks communities for hosting events with lots of cool people!

So what have I been researching?

Well, I've been diving into a lot of areas: tools for thought, complexity theory, social networks, constructivist education theory, video game design, and human-computer interaction. Always along the way I've been brainstorming various things that I could work on. This is something that I really enjoy: coming up with ideas for innovation. Often three or four days later my interest fades and I start focusing on a different area of the world.

I realize this is a process of learning. I have been diving into an area, learning about its current geography, and then theorizing about how it could be different, better. This is a really effective strategy! By being forced to weigh trade-offs and consider paths not taken, you can really begin to understand the space you're dealing with. Learning is fun! No wonder I like this process.

Through this exploration, I've developed some insights I'd like to share about myself and the world:

  1. I intrinsically care about education. Thinking about our failures in educating the entire swath of today's children is so motivating. Just how much could they thrive with the right mediums for learning?
  2. Since I care about helping children learn, I also care about helping adults think. If we can get better at thinking, maybe we can solve some of the problems that prevent children from learning more. So I find myself motivated by the tools for thought question: can we use technology to help people think?
  3. I adopted some note-taking habits and processes over the last few months that have been really great. I will try to outline them in another blog post, so I'll just say: if you haven't already done so, spending a couple hours to think about and improve your information flows can be super helpful!
  4. It's a terrible idea to try to write without doing any reading. Don't start with a blank page. Capture, organize, then synthesize!
  5. Bret Victor is a genius and still underrated. There are subtle gems all around his work. A lot of value can be found by reading his texts closely, watching his videos carefully, and taking them very seriously.
  6. AR/VR is not going to be in my future unless haptic gloves become cheap and good. Tactility is so important for human thinking. VR leaves that behind, but augmenting real objects with sensors and projections? This is doable with our current technology and could be extremely powerful. Imagine if Facebook had spent $20 billion on Dynamicland-style research instead of VR? The world would never be the same.
  7. Will we still want good developer tools in a world where AIs can do research and code? I think so. What happens when AIs write bugs? Humans will have to go in and debug using whatever language and interface is available to them. On top of that, coding is a startlingly good medium for learning about the world and good developer tools can make it even better.

So it seems I've been thinking a lot about the future, learning, and thinking.

What next?

I'm not entirely sure.

I might start a company. I've been thinking about building a prototyping environment. It takes so much knowledge and time to build even trivial apps with our current tools; it would be great to find a way to help people iterate on their ideas faster.

I'll do some part-time UI/design consulting. I think I have good intuition for how to build and improve user interfaces. I hope a small amount of my time could make a big difference to small-stage startups struggling with these issues. What company doesn't need a good user interface?

I might spend my time trying to think of, prototype, and publish ideas, without actually building a product per se. This could be the most fun and least profitable route!

At the very least I'll try to do some of each and write about my experiences. I might even start a podcast in an effort to get some of these thoughts out faster! I'm thinking weekly 10-minute updates, similar to this type of post but in spoken form. We shall see.

Does any of this pique your interest? Let's chat! Any interest in co-founding a prototyping company? Let me know!

Thanks for reading!