It would be a mistake to characterize our work as that which is strictly technologically interesting.
Sure, Urbit is a virtual machine, a virtual computer running in your everyday commodity operating system, a peer-to-peer network, a new conception of how a personal computer might be constructed, architected, and otherwise designed, but basing one’s understanding of Urbit as a project in technological terms misses the point.
Ceramics are frequently cited as being one of the older human arts, originating in Paleolithic times. Pottery may have come along a bit later, according to some sources.
There’s this notion that computers these days are done, there’s little left in the way of exploring what constitutes a personal, commodity, workaday computer that anyone might use. We have phones, tiny supercomputers, head-mounted displays, virtual reality goggles, and while the physical form factors of computers are evolving and integrating themselves closer to people’s bodies, there’s a sense that at the abstract hearts of these devices, the thing we call computer is essentially frozen.
Imagining a world where “ceramics” are conceived as pottery, as vessels, and as
is a little silly, but a point stands:
Computers can be infinitely formed as clay can be infinitely formed. Clay, and its rendering into ceramic material, doesn’t find its only use in the formation of vessels. Clay as a material has been used to form ancient toys, currencies, bricks, entire buildings, entire architectural movements, statues, jewelry, tools, and a huge variety of other useful objects.
I feel like we live in a world where the vast potential of “computers” as a material has been formed into a single shape and left to gather dust. This is the formalism of Unix, of Linux, of unix-like software, of files, of C, of Bell Labs, of client/server, of mega corporations, etc.
Urbit is a nascent project with the aim of reintroducing a computer with a fundamentally different shape than the computers we know now.