'So we're going to talk to a computer and ask it to change Minecraft?" Patrick, my eight-year-old son, sounds both excited and dubious. "How will we talk to it?"
"Well, we'll type in what we want it to do," I say, confidently. (Parenting is all about confidence.)
"And it will do what we say? Epic!" He settles back into his tube seat. Conversation over. "
I hand over my mobile, my pocket brain, my dazzling portable powerhouse processor that has more than 500,000 times the memory of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon. My son takes it as casually as if it were a packet of crisps, types in my security code and starts playing Minecraft
On 19 November last year, a new project was launched on Kickstarter. As with most of the ideas on the site, the world's largest crowdfunding platform, there was a video clip that explained what investors' money would be supporting. In the clip, two young men,
Patrick and I are visiting
Klein - flop-haired, gangle-limbed, 23 - takes us into a small side room, where a prototype
Suddenly, the screen is blank. The cursor flashes, then types out: "Hi, I'm
"Patrick", types Patrick.
"Patrick, follow the white rabbit,"
A few clicks later and Patrick is controlling a Minecraft environment. He's dragging and dropping instructions, typing in measurements, clipping commands together in blocks. He creates a house, in one go. What he's doing, though he doesn't know it, is coding. He can do this because
Not that he cares (nor me). We're too busy discussing building a tower out of TNT and exploding it with lava. Then we make some synth music and have a go at Pong, changing the sizes of the paddles, making the ball big and orange. Pong is a big success with Patrick. I have to prise him away.
Before Klein became involved in
One of the stories he covered was the Raspberry Pi. This small circuit board, the size of a credit card, was launched at the beginning of 2012 and became an instant success. Developed in
But there were those - and I am one of them - who found the Pi intimidating. To make it work, you had to do everything: locate a spare keyboard, plus all the right leads, work out the Wi-Fi, program the SD card. Still, the tech-literate loved the Pi, including Klein, who "hacked about with it". He showed it to his younger cousin (Micah, aged seven - he's in the Kickstarter film), but Micah found it too difficult.
Another story Klein covered was Occupy's
"I said, 'Why don't you join the open source movement? Free software, protocols that allow for minimising government or institutional surveillance and maximising individual control over technology.' And they said, 'Yeah, that's fine - but these things aren't designed for us, they are designed by the
Klein and Raz-Fridman, 30, an ex-intelligence officer for the
"For me, the notion with
There is a coding frenzy out there. Money is pouring into it, from hedge funders speculating on programming startups to ordinary people inspired to back projects such as the coding-for-infants toy Primo.
"We used to get the stereotypical, 15- to 18-year-old, isolated geek," she says. "Now, we're seeing 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds, more mainstream kids who might be brilliant at maths and were introduced to coding by their parents."
Brilliant at maths. . . hmm. Can everyone code? At the moment, coding is presented as an easy route to a well-paid programming job, as though every child will latch on to it and zoom from Scratch, where you get a cartoon cat to walk into walls, to complicated programming languages such as C++. But some people's minds don't work like that. You can show a group of kids an engine and only a few will want to take it apart to see how it works. Not everyone can code well enough to be a programmer.
"No," agrees Mulqueeny. "But children should have a degree of computational thinking. They should know that
We have an interesting talk about teaching. Mulqueeny believes that, fundamentally, coding lessons challenge much more than teachers' skills. They challenge what a teacher is.
"The traditional model is that the teacher imparts knowledge to the children," she says. "But if there aren't enough teachers with the knowledge, why not just let the kids teach themselves? Give them a list of websites and let them try stuff out."
There are teachers who are already coders (check out the inspirational
We're on our way home from
Klein said to me: "For better or worse, we live in some of the most free-market times in history, and thus the lever to most quickly and effectively be an influence on the world is the free market. People can sponsor
It's easy to be seduced by gadgets that help you live your life. But there's a whole world out there that isn't as shiny, isn't as owned by corporations. It's possible to like
Patrick is back on Minecraft on my phone. He looks up. "I really liked that," he says. "It was one of my favourite days. Can we get a
Primo (right) is a physical game that aims to teach coding to four- to seven-year-olds without the need for literacy. Participants align colourful blocks to guide a robot on wheels to its destination.
A website that aims to teach its users coding, for free, to address a general lack of coding skills.
A network run by tech giant
Black Girls Code
BGC aims to increase the number of black women working in computing, technology etc by targeting African American girls aged from seven to 17 years old. Twitter is among the scheme's partners.
Young Rewired State
YRS introduces coding-literate kids to like-minded children their age. A division of the Rewired State company, the youth branch hosts numerous events, the biggest being the Festival of Code held at various venues across the country.
MOVE OVER, MUM
1 Patrick takes a look at
2 Dispensing with the instructions, he gets down to work assembling the bits.
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