Alvy Ray Smith

You can find more about Alvy Ray Smith’s website here. Known for his work in computer graphics, he now has a second life as a genealogist.

Not going to talk about Pixar.I’d like to pay homage to the theory of computability. It’s the theory of how computers work and one of the great inventions of humankind. The Turing and post research invented this theory of computation and it underlies our entire world today. But it’s recent. What I like about computability because it’s tied to what makes life tick, and what makes art tick. Everything I’ve done is tied together with living things, art, and computation.

I learned about computation theory as a graduate student at Stanford and learned it through the form of celluer atonoma theory. It turns out you can do anything in computing with it. I wrote my thesis on self-reproducing machines. These organizations of patterns, each its own computer, would over time build a copy of themselves ad infinitum. Even though I had these theories, my biggest thrill was to get the cover of Scientific American. The game of life had just come out, and it was the most popular topic that Scientific American had ever published.

I had a whole career in celluer atomona theory that most people don’t know about. I broke my leg skiing and decided I wasn’t doing anything with my art and it was time to move on. I went to Xerox PARC and talked my way into its halls at its apex, to help out with Paint. Not going to talk about it because two great books are out: Droidmaker and The Pixar Touch. Decided to go to my “old man stack” where I would put all the ideas I had but that I was too busy doing movies or starting companies. One of these was to do a mathmatical theory and have it published in a mathmatical journal. It’s a complete generation of Napoleon’s therom. It took a year.

Second thing on the stack was digital photography, spent a  year, went to Africa.

Third thing, do my Mom’s genealogy. This is a picture of New Mexico. Our version of US History was Spanish, didn’t care about back east. Our heroes were Coronado, Devargas, then there were the Pueblos along the Rio Grande. One remnant of this time is the name Pixar which is a Spanish verb meaning to make pictures, of course it’s made up. Mom was turning 80 and I decided I wanted to do something really special for her, she had given me an old notebook from a great-Aunt from New Jersrey, I deciphered it and found that it mentioned the Revolutionary War in there. I wrote up a short book and gave it to my Mom for her 80th. I sent it off to a place in Boston called the New England Genealogy Society. Lucky for me the woman who read it, one of the fellows, I wrote her saying she made a mistake, she said I didn’t make a mistake but I have a theory or your problem, and wrote it up in the scholarly way. I got a free tutorial on how to do it right. The theory is wrong, their families didn’t intersect, but you can have my Word document.

Took the 8-page document and blew it out to 583 pages. Three mentors there, one in the Great Migration which is everybody who came from England to New England between 1620 and 1640. He’s 9 volumes into what he thinks will be a 20 volume series about that period. Long story short I wrote a book for Mom, and then I noticed Dad was a little jealous so I did a book for him, over 800 pages. Now have published over 3200 pages of scholarly genealogy. Each is a footnote in each book. As one of my mentors said, “You’ll get over it, it’s not really about you.”

The Y chromosone is passed down the male chain unchanged, mitocondria is passed down the female chain unchanged. Did a DNA-enhanced descent chart, I was able to derived what the DNA of the ancestor had to be. Next thing I’m doing is going back to a paper I wrote in 1984, I generate things you can think of as genes and turn into plants, they grow, flower. That was four or five orders of computation magnitude ago, now want to see what I can do.

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