John Carmack rambles

From VR and esports to wrestling and supercharged Ferraris, from atomic processing for personal computers to rocket engineering for extra-planetary colonization, John Carmack talks for a couple hours on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Sometimes it’s a pleasure to just listen to a smart man talk.

For those who don’t know, Carmack is a programmer and engineer who has long been a driving force behind the swift improvement of computers. He’s a legendary game developer who has also designed rockets. He now leads Oculus in development of Virtual Reality hardware.

I wouldn’t be surprised if John Walker or another of you know Carmack personally. In any case, I’m sure y’all can appreciate the insights into budding technologies.


5 thoughts on “John Carmack rambles”

  1. Fair enough. There were a few times in the video I thought to write something down… and didn’t.

    It’s the first time I have heard someone argue against quantum computing. Carmack says it is not well suited to address the challenges we generally use computers for. More importantly, he says it would break current encryption and security techniques, exposing anything and everything to whomever achieves it first.

    He has ideas about rocket fuel alternatives and rocket engineering, and figures he would be welcome with Bezos’s or Musk’s companies. But since ending his own Armadillo Aeronautics company, he likes being able to focus on his original passion. He thinks it’s significant that there are a few private outer space aeronautics companies today and most people are not even aware of them all. Not long ago, space exploration was limited to only a handful of government agencies.

    One aspect of that which impressed me was the entrepreneur mindset that burning through $100,000 rockets was fine if we learn something from every failure. He and Rogan discussed how martial arts (not a typical geek passtime) can help young people learn that failure is okay when improving.

    On computer chip design, Carmack made me want to update myself on current knowledge and theories about atoms. He noted a quantum [something] effect involving unpredictable movement of electrons which makes transfer of information beyond the current limits of Intel and AMD — data bridges about 3 atoms wide — problematic.

    Carmack talks about how he got into supercharging Ferraris. He melted many pistons before figuring out how to squeeze nearly 1,000 horsepower from less than 400. If I understand correctly, he likened it to controlling the amount of pressure from an opened soda bottle.

    Carmack is less confident about AR (augmented reality) than VR (virtual reality). Everyone likes the idea of AR glasses, no larger or more conspicuous than sunglasses, that you can put on in the morning a wear all day… like we now use smartphones all day. But battery life remains poor and even reducing a wireless headset to box size severely limits resolution.

    He got into VR with Oculus because he lifted his head from projects one day and was shocked by how little progress had been made in the previous decade. As an engineer full of ideas and optimism, he was insulted. There remain many hard challenges, but the industry is moving forward at a brisker pace now.

    He discusses Doom and how making each game open source after moving onto the sequel has proven to be the right choice. Allowing modders to change id Software’s games has given their games much longer lifespans, helped to promote the companies, and led to many interesting ideas.

    Of course, hearing him speak in detail about any of this is much more satisfying.

  2. This is an excellent video and well worth the major investment of time.  (I listened to the first hour and half on audio while running errands and then the final hour on YouTube after getting back to my computer.)  Carmack comes across as a 100% pure straight-shooter (which I suppose you’d expect for somebody who programmed Doom!), and his knowledge of the technologies he discusses is encyclopedic: he clearly digs deep into things before getting involved in them or speaking of them.

    He also totally gets, and got very early, how creating a community of developers and modders around a product adds value to the product line, even after you release complete source code for your previous generation products.

    He says he hasn’t looked in detail at quantum computing, but notes that if it works, it might have a tremendous downside in permitting many of our existing encryption and digital signature mechanisms to be broken, which is correct.  But also, if it works, it may make many problems which are computationally intractable (NP complete) with our present computing technologies possible to solve in polynomial time.  This would be a complete game changer all across the universe of computation, and have consequences which are difficult to envision today.  It isn’t a matter of going faster: it’s the ability to do things which are believed completely impossible, even in principle, with present-day computers.  And yet I (who haven’t looked any more deeply into quantum computing than he has) don’t believe it.  Fundamentally, quantum computing assumes the quantum state is a continuum which can store a theoretically infinite amount of information.  But everything we’ve learned from quantum theory is that there is no continuum, and that everything has a granularity at some level.  If nothing else, the Bekenstein bound, derived from the first principles of quantum mechanics and general relativity, seems to impose an absolute limit on the amount of information which can be stored in a finite volume of space.  This limit is very large compared to our existing memory technology, but it isn’t infinite, and in some ways quantum computing counts upon that infinity.

    Anyway, if you’re interested in this stuff, watch the video; it doesn’t disappoint.


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