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Mark S. Miller keynoting at ActivityPub Conf 2019

By Christopher Lemmer Webber on Wed 24 July 2019

I am extremely pleased to announce that Mark S. Miller is keynoting at ActivityPub Conf 2019!

It's hard for me to understate how huge this is. Mark S. Miller works at Agoric which is leading the way on modern application of object capabilities, which is convenient, since exploration of how to apply object capabilities to federated social networks is a major topic of interest on the fediverse.

But just leaving it at that would be leaving out too much. We can trace Mark's work back the Agoric papers in 1988 which laid out the vision for a massive society and economy of computing agents. (And yes, that's where the Agoric company got its name from.)

For 30 years Mark has been working towards that vision, and social networks continued to intersect with its work. In the late 1990s Mark was involved in a company working on the game Electric Communities Habitat (it's hard to find information on it, but here's a rare video of it in action). (Although Mark Miller didn't work on it, Electric Communities Habitat has its predecessor in Lucasfilm's Habitat, which it turns out was a graphical multiplayer game which ran on the Commodore 64!(!!!) You can see the entertaining trailer for this game... keep in mind, this was released in 1986!)

People who have read my blog before may know that I've talked about building secure social spaces as virtual worlds: part of the reason I know it is possible is that Electric Communities Habitat for the large part built it and proved the ideas possible. Electric Communities the company did not survive, but the ideas lived on in the E programming language, which I like to describe as "the most interesting and important programming language you may have never heard of".

While the oldschool design of the website may give you the impression that the ideas there are out of date, time and time again I've found that the answers to my questions about how to build things have all been found on erights.org and in Mark Miller's dissertation.

Mark's work hasn't stopped there. Many good ideas in Javascript (such as its promises system) were largely inspired from Mark's work on the E programming language (Mark joined the standardization process of Javascript to make it be possible to build ocap-safe systems on it), and... well, I can go on and on.

Instead, I'm going to pause and say that I'm extremely excited that Mark has agreed to come to ActivityPub Conf to help introduce the community to the ideas in object capabilities. I hope the history I laid out above helps make it clear that the work to coordinate cooperative behavior amongst machines overlaps strongly with our work in the federated social web of establishing cooperative behavior amongst communities of human beings. I look forward to Mark helping us understand how to apply these ideas to our space.

Has this post got you excited? At the time of me writing this, there's still space at ActivityPub Conf 2019, and there's still time (until Monday July 29th) to submit talks. See the conference announcement for more details, and hope to see you there!

EDIT: I incorrectly cited Mark Miller originally as being involved in Lucasfilm's Habitat; fixed and better explained its history.