Wednesday, June 22, 2016 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Alan Kay AMA

Alan Kay:

I’m not a big Unix fan -- it was too late on the scene for the level of ideas that it had -- but if you take the cultural history it came from, there were several things they tried to do that were admirable -- including really having a tiny kernel and using Unix processes for all systems building (this was a very useful version of “OOP” -- you just couldn’t have small objects because of the way processes were implemented). It was quite sad to see how this pretty nice mix and match approach gradually decayed into huge loads and dependencies. Part of this was that the rather good idea of parsing non-command messages in each process -- we used this in the first Smalltalk at Parc -- became much too ad hoc because there was not a strong attempt to intertwine a real language around the message structures (this very same thing happened with http -- just think of what this could have been if anyone had been noticing …)


It used to be the case that people were admonished to “not re-invent the wheel”. We now live in an age that spends a lot of time “reinventing the flat tire!”

The flat tires come from the reinventors often not being in the same league as the original inventors. This is a symptom of a “pop culture” where identity and participation are much more important than progress…


When the first Turing Award winner -- Al Perlis -- was asked in the 60s “What is Computer Science?”, he said “It is the science of processes!”. He meant all processes including those on computers, but also in Biology, society, etc.

His idea was that computing formed a wonderful facility for making better models of pretty much everything, especially dynamic things (which everything actually is), and that it was also the kind of thing that could really be understood much better by using it to make models of itself.


I’ve been constantly surprised about how what I called “object-oriented” and “system-oriented” got neutered into Abstract Data Types, etc., (I think because people wanted to retain the old ways of programming with procedures, assignment statements, and data structures. These don’t scale well, but enormous amounts of effort have been expended to retain the old paradigms …


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