Monday, July 05, 2004
Nobody is doing computer science anymore
After reading Glenn Ehrlich's Cooking with Lisp blog the other day, I sat and watched a fascinating video with Alan Kay, one of the old timers back at Xerox PARC. Glenn's posting was about Kay's Croquet shared collaboration environment. This interested me a little, but the highlight of the posting was a video lecture that Kay presented at Stanford. The video starts with Kay describing and demonstrating Croquet. That part was all well and good, but I wasn't overly impressed with the interaction model. After reading a lot of William Gibson novels, I understand the goal, but it just doesn't do it for me. Moving avatars through virtual 3D worlds just doesn't seem all that neat for anything other than a game-world. Most of the time it just seems like a hassle.
Okay, but after that, Kay starts to take questions at the lecture. This was the best part, in my opinion. The questions are very interesting, as are Kay's responses. Simply, Kay has some pretty harsh criticism of computer science education these days. He says that nobody is doing computer science anymore and basically equates today's computer science curriculum with vocational work, simply training legions of Java programmers and not studying any hard problems or advancing the state of the art. He says that he actually looked at writing Croquet in Java originally, but found it sadly lacking on a number of fronts and so they went back to Smalltalk (Squeak). He has high praise for Lisp and McCarthy, saying that it was one of the most impactful ideas ever in computer science. At one point, he blasts Stanford's Bill Gates-funded computer science building, saying it's an oxymoron.
In short, even if you aren't interested in Croquet, this video is fascinating and will expose you to the mind of Alan Kay, a genuinely smart person. Whether or not you agree with him, well, that's another matter.
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