The HLF Portraits: Butler W. Lampson

Video thumbnail (Frame 0) Video thumbnail (Frame 14000) Video thumbnail (Frame 25541) Video thumbnail (Frame 36262) Video thumbnail (Frame 46983) Video thumbnail (Frame 57904) Video thumbnail (Frame 66776) Video thumbnail (Frame 75648) Video thumbnail (Frame 76679)
Video in TIB AV-Portal: The HLF Portraits: Butler W. Lampson

Formal Metadata

The HLF Portraits: Butler W. Lampson
Title of Series
No Open Access License:
German copyright law applies. This film may be used for your own use but it may not be distributed via the internet or passed on to external parties.
Release Date

Content Metadata

Subject Area
The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation presents the HLF Portraits: Butler W. Lampson; ACM A.M. Turing Award, 1992 Recipients of the ACM A.M. Turing Award and the Abel Prize in discussion with Marc Pachter, Director Emeritus National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, about their lives, their research, their careers and the circumstances that led to the awards. Video interviews produced for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation by the Berlin photographer Peter Badge. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation or any other person or associated institution involved in the making and distribution of the video. Background: The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation (HLFF) annually organizes the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), which is a networking event for mathematicians and computer scientists from all over the world. The HLFF was established and is funded by the German foundation the Klaus Tschira Stiftung (KTS), which promotes natural sciences, mathematics and computer science. The HLF is strongly supported by the award-granting institutions, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM: ACM A.M. Turing Award, ACM Prize in Computing), the International Mathematical Union (IMU: Fields Medal, Nevanlinna Prize), and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA: Abel Prize). The Scientific Partners of the HLFF are the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and Heidelberg University.

Related Material

Point (geometry) Group action Building Service (economics) Direction (geometry) Multiplication sign Decision theory Source code Range (statistics) Virtual machine Field (computer science) Computer programming Neuroinformatik Number Mathematics Punched tape Semiconductor memory Core dump Energy level Metropolitan area network Collaborationism Numerical digit Shift operator Inheritance (object-oriented programming) Moment (mathematics) Physicalism Bit Degree (graph theory) Particle system Digital photography Word Process (computing) Integrated development environment Addressing mode Internet forum Video game Right angle Moving average Musical ensemble Table (information) Family
Turing test Point (geometry) Implementation Group action Building Multiplication sign Decision theory Direction (geometry) Virtual machine Sheaf (mathematics) Function (mathematics) Computer programming Field (computer science) Neuroinformatik Formal language Number Punched tape Centralizer and normalizer Term (mathematics) Data conversion Physical system Form (programming) Area Programming language Projective plane Moment (mathematics) Data storage device Physicalism Bit Flow separation 19 (number) Diameter Word Calculation Universe (mathematics) Video Genie Computer science Right angle Video game console Quicksort Reading (process) Thomas Bayes Spacetime
Building Context awareness Thread (computing) Multiplication sign Decision theory View (database) System administrator Mereology Order of magnitude Computer programming Neuroinformatik Web 2.0 Semiconductor memory Different (Kate Ryan album) Office suite Modulo (jargon) Physical system Enterprise architecture State transition system Electric generator Touchscreen Software developer Moment (mathematics) Bit Computer scientist Instance (computer science) Computer Sequence Flow separation Connected space Degree (graph theory) Process (computing) Computer science Normal (geometry) Right angle Figurate number Reading (process) Point (geometry) Color confinement Atomic nucleus Service (economics) Link (knot theory) Real number Virtual machine Ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy Tube (container) Student's t-test Event horizon Rule of inference 2 (number) Hypothesis Number Revision control Crash (computing) Spreadsheet McCarthy, John Computer hardware Analytic continuation Computer architecture Focus (optics) Dependent and independent variables Scaling (geometry) Information Projective plane Universe (mathematics) Video Genie Pressure
Point (geometry) Trajectory Divisor View (database) Multiplication sign Direction (geometry) Connectivity (graph theory) Virtual machine Similarity (geometry) Fault-tolerant system Field (computer science) Computer programming Neuroinformatik Fraction (mathematics) Frequency Semiconductor memory Computer hardware Energy level User interface Enterprise architecture Standard deviation Touchscreen Electronic mailing list Parallel port Bit Line (geometry) Computer Cartesian coordinate system Radical (chemistry) Process (computing) Software Textsystem Computer science Configuration space Right angle Arithmetic progression Spacetime
Sensitivity analysis State observer Building Euler angles Code Multiplication sign View (database) Direction (geometry) Modal logic 1 (number) Mereology Computer programming Neuroinformatik Software bug Expected value Web 2.0 Online chat Facebook Mathematics Strategy game Cuboid ARPANET Endliche Modelltheorie Information security Position operator Exception handling Predictability Email Simulation Algorithm Touchscreen Bit Lattice (order) Sequence 10 (number) Radical (chemistry) Type theory Proof theory Wave Process (computing) Telecommunication Right angle Quicksort Fundamental theorem of algebra Existence Link (knot theory) Real number Theory Goodness of fit Prototype Latent heat Internetworking Computer hardware Reduction of order Metropolitan area network Interactive television Physical computing Line (geometry) Cartesian coordinate system Evolute Carry (arithmetic) Software Personal digital assistant Video game
Goodness of fit Word Personal digital assistant View (database) Internet forum Right angle
Bit rate
professor let's start at the beginning relatively the beginning not at birth but you're 10 years old where are you living what is your family life like my parents were in the Diplomatic Service so when I was 10 and I was living in Bonn Germany it's not right yes well this was during occupation well and the American military Bannen was the headquarters of the occupation the American military had a big presence there and they had decided that it was not healthy for American dependents to associate with Germans so they built a small Midwestern town on the banks of the Rhine and glitter stuff extruder they've had a number of three-story apartment buildings and it had a shopping center and with a px and a movie theater and a club and a church and a school it was like being in the Midwest exactly that was the intention and that was what was achieved and does that mean that essentially it was an insular life that you were leading or was there were your parents enriching that well my parents were definitely thought this was weird because this is not the way to find service operates right so I was not strictly confined to this environment but that was the normal day-to-day experience there was a school that had been set up so you you went to a Midwestern American school that's right and a lady came in twice a week for 45 minutes to teach us German so it was fairly weird yes in retrospect of course at the time being 10 I thought it was not huge how's your German by the way I used very little of it so it's pretty rusty okay this child was 10 year old is he good in any particular subject is he being pushed in any particular intellectual direction no I don't think I was being pushed but yes I was always very good at school work across the range not only science or math across the range terrible handwriting how long did that stay in in Germany go your your table in here when you're in this village how much longer before you go to the next place we came back to the United States in 1955 okay when I was 11 or 12 I must have an eleven men so your high school education middle high school was in the United that's right and where was that I went to school for one year and I took private school in Washington and then I was sent to boarding school at Lawrenceville Lawrenceville again I'm because of the future career I'm always going to be asking you whether you're beginning to get rich scientific or mathematical encouragement Lawrenceville might have been mostly humanistic in its offerings or there may have been some rich source of inspiration there I think it had a fairly decent science and math I was always very interested in science and math but I was interested in a lot of other things too right and you're deciding what to do with your life is there a teacher who's particularly guiding you or are you really having the internal conversation about about what's next I don't think there was any particular teacher who had an outstanding influence on me well we've got to get you graduated and we've got to get you started on probably a scientific career you know I think to Harvard so I went to Harvard that's right majored in physics in physics okay now we're getting somewhere because the transition from physics to a decision ultimately to change to computers as so much of the core of what you're becoming intellectually sit can you tell me originally why physics was your chosen field then why you began to shift your interest or perhaps it's not a shift of interest I'm not sure that I know exactly why I chose physics okay but I understand quite well why I had always been interested in computing from from the time that I'd been in high school one of my friends found underutilized computer at Princeton which is just six miles down the road I and we would go up there once or twice a week to play around with it I think it's probably hard for a lot of young people today to understand really at some deep level how early on the knowledge of that access to computers are can you give me some sense of how special this opportunity may have been for you well at that time there were maybe a couple of thousand computers in the world maybe 5,000 certainly not much more than that this was a vacuum tube machine it had it was a decimal machine it had two thousand ten decimal digit words of memory so it was fairly basic but we had a good time with it nonetheless why was the access permitted my friend found this under severely underutilized computer at this time this was an IBM 650 and by 1959 it was heading towards obsolescence so it wasn't very heavily used and I think he sweet-talked the lady who was in charge of it right I wasn't involved in that I just love the sweet coffee right benefit I just benefit I got exactly right um well you chose physics for reasons we can't precisely define but you were choosing the sciences certainly yes and and that always seemed more interesting to me than math although I studied a lot of math maybe I chose physics because it's the most mathematical science again I'm looking for what I may not find which is a particularly exciting professor or moment that's going to direct your future enquiries is your time in Harvard mostly unremarkable for inspiration are you are you having some good moments as you discover what you what you're interested in well I certainly had I found a number of opportunities to do computing while I was at Harvard there was occasionally opportunities to go down and run jobs on the computer center at MIT this was in the days when Harvard didn't really have any this would a centralized computing yes yes and then I got hooked up with a physics professor who had a small mini computer one of the very first many computers so-called pdp-1 and he wanted that he was taking he was running an experiment experiments that involved taking photographs of the sparks in a spark chamber which is a way to track the trajectory of ionized particles and he wanted to write have some programs to automatically analyze these pictures so I did quite a bit of work for him while I was an undergraduate oh okay looks like an important turning point can you describe the broad interests such as it exists in computing as a direction and career at this time are you finding yourself rather alone in this interest or is there an interesting group of young people who are sharing your interests there were not many this was before you could actually formally study computing in any systematic way it was possible to get it a graduate degree in competing at Harvard but it was it was kind of weird but I liked the way things were set up the way computing got started in Harvard there was a man named Howard Aiken who had disappeared by the time I showed up but he built with he he in pea in collaboration with IBM built a couple of big relay machines which were a couple of the first large-scale computers although nowadays we wouldn't really consider them to be real computers because they didn't have stored programs the programs came in on gigantic rolls of paper tape and that was how Harvard got into computing and at the time that they had built a building named it after Howard Aiken and I still remember when I was a sophomore or junior going into the lobby of this building it's quite large probably about the size of this room 30 feet long it was all fairly dimly lit in the lobby down at one end there was a lit up desk where the receptionist sound and all down the right-hand wall was it was the
right hand was completely glass on the other side of the glass was the machine room which was about five times the size of this Lobby and in the machine room all down one side was the Marquand relight calculator cabinet after cabinet filled with relays giant cables a foot in diameter huge read readers for the two foot wide paper tape typewriters for typing outputs and so forth it was all turned off of course it was this completely obsolete at the time all down the left-hand side of this gigantic room
was the mark for real a calculator more of the same and way down at the end there was a lit up section which was the university's central computing facility which at that time was a UNIVAC one which was also completely obsolete even more obsolete than the 650 and I had access to it at Princeton what is the year now this is 1950 no 1962 and in October of 1962 they swept all of this stuff away and they put in a raised floor and installed an IBM 7090 moved into the modern world and you're at this juniors that happened when that happened like no was a sophomore engineering that's not what junior um I talked to a number of Turing Award people as some of them were quite sensitive to early in their careers when they began to be passionate about computing that it was considered by a lot of their colleagues they classify and that if you're giving up physics or that well I haven't done that I went to graduate school in physics okay then let's get your private school and then and then we'll worry about this dangerous decision you're making I spent a lot of time on computing isn't he yeah but it wasn't it's still not your field it was not even possible really it wasn't Harvard even possible really right I didn't I did take a course from Ken Iverson who was the originator of a very famous programming language called APL he came from he worked for IBM but he was on sabbatical at Harvard for a year or so that was lucky that was nice and he taught this course at that time there was no implementation for APL it was purely it existed only in the form of pencil and paper and can Iverson's book explaining it all and in fact he was strongly opposed to the idea that there would be an implementation because he was sure that the implementation would require a lot of terrible compromises that would wreck the purity of his language really and three or four years later he was extremely lucky to fall in with some people who figured out how to implement API without compromising the purity at all and it had a lot of influence for a couple of decades after that but at the time that I was taking his course it was not like it was just paper we want to get you graduated in physics deciding for what graduate program you wanted in physics while I applied to two places Princeton and UC Berkeley and I was very fortunate the Princeton turned me down because if it would have been much more difficult to get into computing at Princeton than at Berkeley ah describe Berkeley because that is where the transition happens in terms of your fascinations the kind of project you were interested in in physics and what sent you in another direction well I know exactly what sent me in another direction in the in most November or December of 1964 which was the I had arrived yeah I had arrived in Berkeley in September of nineteen before of the fall joint computer conference happened in San Francisco this was to me at that time the overwhelmingly most important gathering of practitioners of computing both academic and industrial any word anywhere yes and so it was easy for me to get to it since it was just across the bay I went to it and I ran across a fellow that I knew various Lightning named Steve Russell and he asked me how is Peter Dortch doing and I said who is Peter gouged I have never had it I had never heard of him Steve knowing because they both Bend MIT earlier Peter at that time was a freshman or sophomore undergraduate but he had done a lot of programming while he was in high school that MIT where his father was a professor of physics and so Steve explained to me that if I went to the electrical engineering building which is called quarry Hall on the Berkeley campus and I went to the first floor the north east corner there was an unmarked door in the northeast corner and if I would just be easy yes exactly and if I went through that door and kept going I would come to them oh the so-called geni project where they were trying to build a time-sharing system out of reasonably high-end mini-computer of the day so I followed Steve's instructions and I went through the store and there was a little sort of airlock and then I going through another door and then there was quite a large room with several desks in it but nothing interesting and another door on the far end so I went through that door and then I was in a huge room with enormously high ceilings it turns out when they built Corey Hall they didn't have enough money to build all the floor space that they wanted so what they did was they built up almost all of it double-height with the idea that they would put in mezzanine later when they got more money this was before the mezzanine so there was this enormous lehigh space and in this gigantic room there were a couple of old computers that were turned off and in the middle of it was a rather small mini computer called a scientific data systems 9:30 sitting at the console of this machine was a very young guy Peter must have been 16 at the time 16 16 or 17 cuz it was a he was a freshman or sophomore and he was a little bit precocious too and he was reading in a paper tape so I stood there and watched and he after it was already took it out and he put it back in the reader and read it again and I said what on earth are you doing and he said it's a to pass relocatable oder and I said what it's just not a sensible thing to do and Peter said yes yes I know I'm rewriting it so that was how I was introduced to Peter and indeed to the 940 project so this is the moment of conversion well I don't know about conversion I've been drifting towards computing for a long time but this was it this was a realization this was a point at which I had something to engage with it could consume all my energies and allow me to pursue it academically legitimate path as well as everything which is it it would have been much more difficult if I hadn't been able to do that do you formally switch you're a few months later a few months later and what sort of a department would you then enter into at this date well this was the so-called electrical engineering computer science department at Berkeley which had been renamed from Electrical Engineering just a couple of years previously by its very four-sided Chairman let Lozada the so they didn't actually have much of an academic program in computing but right they had put Computer Science in the name of the department there is in popular culture that's the right phrase general understanding of the relative merits of beginning your computer studies in Berkeley or Stanford the sense that Berkeley was a little
backward compared to Stanford was that is that fair to say after 1964 maybe a bit but these things this the Berkeley Stanford competition has had its ups and downs over the last 50 years Danford was in many ways I think a bit ahead of Berkeley primarily because they had hired John McCarthy who brought the whole idea of time-sharing an AI from MIT to Stanford and sterilized Stanford AI lab I didn't have a lot of contact with Stanford in 64 and 65 so I'm not quite sure what the sequence of events was apparently you weren't so self-aware of the relative merits that you were bothered by what you were getting at Berkeley no the project the genie project was a great thing to be on and it never occurred to me that I might be better off somewhere outright well but we're gonna get you somewhere else so your degree is in electrical engineering / computer EE CS it's called right what was the focus of your your dissertation work well my nominal academic adviser was a professor named Harry husky who had built it was very common in the early 50s for universities to build computers themselves because you couldn't actually buy any computers at the time to speak of and Harry had built one I think that you was at UCLA and then he had been involved with the development of some industrial computers as well but by the time I came into contact with him he was not doing a lot of new work anymore he was getting on a bit in years and he didn't pay a lot of attention to me and I didn't pay attention to him which was a good which was fine with me right but it made it very easy for me to write a PhD thesis that he was perfectly happy with paedon get any guidance right the guidance came from male Pirtle who was actually a graduate student although somewhat older than the normal kind of graduate students who was effectively running the geni project what problem were you trying to solve I mean that's a very thing the goal of the project was to build a so-called general-purpose time sharing system that could run arbitrary programs oh come on a machine that was an order of magnitude cheaper than the machines on which this kind of work had been done previously and indeed this and the goal was to make it do this in such a way that the company that build built the original version of this machine which we might have to modify a fair amount could then commercialize it and that in fact was done and the scientific data systems 940 computer system which was the commercial version of the thing the stuff that we built at Berkeley basically ran all of our code and and incorporated most of the hardware changes that that we had found necessary to make to the original machine that was the first widely sold commercial time sharing system I think they sold 50 or 60 of them really now as you think of your next stage are you tempted by a scholarly university connection are you tempted by the commercial world which may not yet understand the possibilities of this how do you make those decisions Wow it was fairly easy for me actually um having built this successful time sharing system on a modified STS 930 we wanted naturally to build a second generation system it would be much more glorious right that we would be much faster and run much bigger programs and generally be more wonderful in every positive way this was before people started to realize that it's not always a good idea to make a second system that's much more grandiose than the first one because very often this systems crash and burn but we didn't appreciate that is this one of your principles oh it's a very honest for your severity no it's not migrants okay this is the well-known second system phenomena hope it so the so our original idea was that we would continue in the university and get more money from ARPA and and build the second generation system but we discovered over the course of a year or two that basically the resources that you would have to marshal to build this system it couldn't be marshaled within the confines of the university there were too many bureaucratic restrictions of one kind and another and so we decided to do a startup and we found a company that was in the IBM computer leasing business that had a bunch of spare cash lying around and talked them into being more venture capitalists or there was there was no real venture capital industry at the time so this was one of the first really one of the first time um instances is something that subsequently became trademark for Silicon Valley but of course there was no Silicon Valley at the time is yes I was just getting started would someone have described you would you have described yourself at this point is entrepreneurial well I personally was not terribly entrepreneurial the entrepreneurial aspects of this were primarily done by male Pirtle who I previously had been effectively been running the the genie project and had finished his PhD by that by that time so he started this thing called the Berkeley Computer Corporation right the goal of which was to build the this much more grandiose second generation time sharing system I bombed out after a couple years then why because it was much too grandiose there's an in yeah I think there's an iron rule of successful startups which is if you're gonna do a technology startup there should not be any technical risk because there are so many other risks in a startup that if there are technical risks as well you pile them on top of all the other things that can go wrong it's very unlikely the is gonna succeed there was a lot of technical risk in this project cuz it was basically a research project it was the project right a research project that we had wanted to do at Berkeley but we couldn't figure out how to make it work now I'm just gonna make a wild guess and say you survived this failure you have moved on yes absolutely to what well at the end of 1970 Berkeley computer was pretty clearly doomed and we had basically run out of money and there was no real prospect of getting any more money from anybody very fortunately at that time the computer science lab at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center was just getting started and they had hired Bob Taylor to get it going Bob had been among other things the direct director of the computing office at ARPA several years previously and the genii project at Berkeley was an ARPA contractor so I had come into quite a
bit of contact with him and has had several of my colleagues and bob was looking around for a hotshot computer scientist to hire into his new lab and BCC was going down the tubes so he scooped up half a dozen of us to form the nucleus of the computer science lab at lark and this was all from my point of view this all had happened really without any effort no understood but you're the right person at the right time so I was just blind luck yeah well well I didn't actually do anything luck is often our luck it's very important luck is very important now this is now considered what was like the bell at one of those golden moments where the right people get together at a critical point and begin to produce fundamental things how would you characterize your career there what was fascinating you this is the context in which you begin to work with Alto so for tonight I'd like to understand your development there as a computer scientist well the primary motivation for the time sharing work that we've been doing at Berkeley was to be able to compute interactively so that you could do something in the computer could respond more or less immediately and respond or respond in a way that was as flexible as possible and one of a number of ways to think about what we did at Parc in the 1970s was to just carry that thread forward yes are you using this substantially different hardware base because because hardware technology had moved on and you could do things that you couldn't possibly have done in the 60s just because the hardware would have been too expensive or too inflexible or or whatever but the basic idea was to was to do interactive computing another way of looking at it is Xerox had set up Park because they realized that the immense riches that they were taking in from their monopoly on on plain paper copying women would not last forever eventually their pens would run out and they would have competition and so and if they wanted to continue to be a growing enterprise they would need new things and so they set up Park in particularly this part of the park to invent the office of the future and the architecture of information that was the official a challenge an actual office alone that you you all tried to meet so that was our yeah that's another way of thinking about what we were doing yes at Parc in that in the 1970s we were inventing the office of the future and the architecture of information right the everything of the future as it turns out well almost not quite everything we didn't do spreadsheets okay and I think the reason for that is that we had a very strong culture that said that you should use what you build and we didn't have any use for spreadsheets because spreadsheets at that time were for accountants yes and we didn't have any accounts I mean upstairs an administration or a couple of accountants but we didn't get along with them very well and we certainly didn't do any of that kind of work ourselves so we didn't see any need for spreadsheets and we didn't actually have any customers right there was no external pressure to do spreadsheets so we didn't do them but we did everything else the only other thing we didn't do that's an essential part of the modern computing world is we didn't do the world wide web right because things things were one much too small a scale to make that possible we're very close to your producing a world famous paper the the I mean I can say more easily than you but I've read a lot about you but the Aalto the early movement toward a PC and so forth can you describe your thinking at this point I guess this is 72-73 when you publish very important paper I published an internal memo in turn explaining why we should build the Alto can you it was called why Alto and the the basic energized there were two energizing ideas behind the Alto one was that a whole computer should be dedicated to one person this was absolutely unheard of at the time yes the only context view in which anything like this had ever been attempted before was when Wes Clark built a laboratory computer called the link which he built soon so that yeah to make it easier for violet for laboratory biologists to instrument their laboratories but that wasn't they're not the goal there was to for the computer to interact with the laboratory instrumentation not with the people are ideal with that the computer should be being services of one person who is doing the kind of thing that he would otherwise be doing which is a revolutionary as yeah from one point of view it was a revolutionary idea from another point of view it was just a natural continuation of the idea of time sharing which was that although in fact the user of a time sharing system didn't have access to the whole machine everything was constructed in such a way that modulo performance that he got he could think that he had access to the mission to the whole machine I see but by the early 70s it was actually feasible to build a machine you couldn't have built this beam commercially would have yeah if you tried to sell a commercial it would have cost sixty or seventy thousand dollars and that was 1971 dollars which were worth four or five times when today's dollars in worth so you couldn't possibly have sold this machine commercially but it was cheap enough that we could afford to build well initially thirty of them eventually about two thousand how this was the response to the memo and the ongoing idea and aspiration pretty positive immediately did it take some persuading well it was positive enough that we got enough money to build 30 of them okay and then we were able to do all kinds of interesting things with the 30 and I don't think after that there was ever any tremendous difficulty in building getting money to build more other it's all related but other intellectual challenges that you were interested in taking on it at Parc well as I said they were I mentioned that there were two motivating main motive a motivating ideas behind the Alta one of them was that the user should have been their own machine right and the other one was that there should be a screen that could do a decent job of simulating a piece of paper which again was unthinkable previously and it was only the advent of the the improvement of hardware technology to them they made memory cheap enough that you could actually afford to dedicate half a megabit of it to this to representing the screen that made this possible again this is something that couldn't have been done even five years previously because they I remember still when when Harvard acquired at 70 90 in the reading room of the computing Center there showed up a few pieces of paper that described the
configuration and what what it cost and I don't actually know how much Harvard pay because they probably got some great deal from IBM but the list price for the memory of the 70-90 was 1 a bit so at a dollar a bit to do up the half megabit required for for the the screen of the alto would have been half a million dollars oh so you couldn't have afforded it right but by 1972 you could because the price have come down by a factor of 100 or so again we were used to thinking of this amazingly fast progress at the time are you thinking well this is going very fast we'll get to such and such a place soon I mean are you aware being in the middle of this speeding well yes yes ins no we were certainly aware of the fact that that um the hardware components that you could build computers out of were improving fairly rapidly right we were also very much aware of the fact that that um this machine that was that would cost 70 or 80 thousand dollars if you commercialized it today would be a brew it would be possible to sell a machine similar capabilities for just a couple thousand dollars ten or fifteen years in the future that you inspect and that was a an essential motivation for the whole trajectory of the work that we were doing right cuz IBM's increasing support of it mr. auxins yes zero IBM would never ignore us yeah IBM would never have supported such an enterprise like this because they actually knew a lot about computer just and they had a very strong ideas about how things are working and the idea that you could have a personal computer with a with a paper like screen that was just not in their space and all were the Orthodox they were the orthodoxy absolutely you were the road we were the radicals Xerox didn't know anything about computers we knew a fair amount of computers although not from the commercial point of view but Sir Ector didn't care about that because it wasn't their goal to be a commercial computer company actually that's not quite true because the other thing that happened at the same time was that Xerox bought SDS was kind of an accident that the company they chose to buy was the one that we whose machines we've been working on earlier but they had dreams of getting into the computer business however they had absolutely no clue how to get into the computer business and then the course of three or four years have they managed to run SDS completely into the ground and had to shut it down well for you it's been a an intellectual paradise to be able to follow these questions and issues why do you ever leave Clark why did I leave Park oh because the computer science night was as I mentioned before it was run by Bob Taylor yes and in 1983 Xerox fired Bob Taylor so most of the people that had been working for him left big big mistake I think it was very stupid we explained to them very carefully how stupid it was and they listened to us straight carefully we even got to talk to the CEO but they went ahead and fired him anyway do you have any idea what bob was not an easy person to manage I see and after 13 years of it I think Julia George pate who was running Park and Xerox research at the time got tired of managing Bob right but it was a fair in my view an extremely irresponsible thing to write right it's self-destructive yes okay by now you probably have a okay reputation in the field you've demonstrated your abilities so probably you're able to choose a next step well that never actually came up because Bob found another Connie did so you follow I followed Bob to digital equipment when I started the systems Research Center in Palo Alto a pail of and hired create a large fraction of the people that have been working in at Park in CSL some of them by that time it had started to go off to do startups and become billionaires yes but but the bulk of them stuck with Bob we're also you were a billionaire or your second bomb I think there were some oh there were some other possible paths but that's not that's not a bad way to characterize how how are you being paid at this point is it a good salary is comfortable to a professor is it I was being paid significantly better than a professor at the time but huh hey I wasn't gonna become ridic no no I'm the salaries than that well I'm very comfortable comfortable and by this time by the way I have moved to Philadelphia to become one of the world's first telecommuters that was probably from love yes it was it was because Louis got a job at Penn right so you're still working for the hollow Alto but you are living in Philadelphia is that I mean you said okay I had two Altos uh-huh sitting on that a third floor of my house which was built in 1749 and I had a leased lon 9600 baud leased line at vast expense that connected me to Palo Alto so I was pretty much it's connected yeah at least by the standards of the day right are you because you've done so much there's we can't really cover it all but would your next challenges in this next period what are you are you developing these same ideas to the next level are you taking out some other issues that interest you um I think in the 80s and early 90s the things that I primarily worked on were actually yeah somewhat different I worked on understanding how to build reliable parallel and distributed computer systems and also on how to do fault tolerance neither one of which were things that we thought about much at Parc how did you choose were you in charge of your own research direction more or less yeah but also DC they seem like very natural direct things to pursue we didn't have any spectacular ideas for how to it's a right way to say this there was a lot more to it than what I've been this but I think the central thrust of what we were doing at Parc was captured by the user interfaces of the various applications that we built word processors and drawing programs and so on and so forth and and and by the low-level networking capabilities that we built but by by the early 80s we
didn't really have any great ideas about how to make these things better um and in my opinion no one has had any great ideas yet yeah even though it's 40 years old yes yes I don't think that the the fundamental user experience of computing has not improved substantially in my view since the early eighties okay very very strongly one of the biggest disappointments yeah his expectation and maybe yours too well a lot of people have worked on it but no one's had any great ideas and you know so far it's certainly a it's certainly a big change that you can hold a full-blown computer in your lap and you can carry something that except for screen sizes a full-blown computer around in your hand but the user experience is not substantially different different we've we've introduced swiping yes which is not it and my opinion have a huge advance we've also introduced the idea of clicking on links to traverse the web which is a huge advance right but that's about it some would say I think I may have but others that was a it's really been a dumbing down rather than no I don't agree with that just hasn't progressed it just hasn't progressed very dramatically certainly a lot of things have been done to me make it somewhat or even considerably easy for people to get into the kind of computing environment and that we had built already built it at Parc by 1976 but so a lot of good engineering has been done a lot of useful things have been added you know now you can type set in tie than man and that's that's not important to me but it certainly there are the tens or hundreds of millions of people from that kind of thing it's extremely important of course but the qualitatively I don't think the experience has changed significantly one of the many issues you've been involved with the problems challenges the question of security can you talk a little bit about how that became the case so important in your own research well I've worked on security off and on for more than 50 years now ever since security was very important in the world of time-sharing because you had these people who were perhaps not active adversaries but somebody not necessarily cooperating sharing the same chunk of hardware yeah and it was a very serious issue to make sure that they could have did that sharing in such a way that they wouldn't trip over each other's feet yeah and furthermore at that time I guess the view was not so much that the guy that the next terminal might be actively hostile but that his yeah you didn't really know what his program was going to do it might be full of bugs and you didn't want your program to be messed up in spite of the food in fact it here that you couldn't predict anything about what his program was going to do so we took at that time fairly stringent attitudes towards how security ought to be done to make sure that the the the guy that was sharing the physical computer hardware with with me was not going to be able to mess me up right and in my view things that basically with respect to security and computing things basically been downhill ever since downhill other things have been more important than security huh is that a mistake no I think it's good I think the crying hysteria about security is wildly overblown why do you think people who become so is there well it makes good headlines and you know when when the sensitive emails from Sony get published or or Hillary Clinton gets into trouble for his name her emails or whatever um it's very easy to get excited you can you can dig up all kinds of historical stories about how the world might come to an end if this kind of thing spread right and and so yeah but allowing through the Clinton email controversies and so forth the the notion of the hacker and hacking being one of the great weapons of our time is that overdraw yes I think it is I think there there are relatively straightforward things that one can do to alleviate these problems and the fact that for the most part people are not doing them I found a wonderful slogan on the Internet which is attributed to General Benjamin chidlaw who was the common dad of NORAD in 1955 the North American air defense system and nothing to do with computers he actually caused to be written on a some sort of monument at NORAD if you want security you must be prepared for inconvenience and this is certainly true in the physical world right if you have a document that you want to secure what do you do with it you put it in a safe-deposit box right yes sir it costs a small amount of money yeah that's it incredible amount of inconvenience to get to the doctor right but it's much more secure than it would be if it were sitting in your house in the computer computer world typically we haven't been willing to put up with that kind of inconvenience and so what we pay what we pay and a consequence of not being able to put up with the inconvenient not being willing to put up with the inconvenience is that we don't get security life is hard you get what you pay for and people have this weird idea that because computers are made up of binary bits and execute programs deterministically we should be able to make them perfect but if you look at the at the real world of computer programs that's just simply nonsense nobody understands how I need
to program of any substantial size it really works and it's not cost effective to try to understand the IC you make the program good enough to hit it to get the job done and this doesn't sound like the observation of the theorist theorists don't build programs that other people use with very few exceptions Don Knuth is an exception yes he booked most of his programs nobody uses but text a lot of people use because but even but Don actually understands this very well there's a famous note that he put onto an algorithm that he was working on many years ago he said be careful if you when you use this program I've only proved it correct I have not tested it so why does that make any sense I mean if you've proved to correct it must be working well no not quite because what the proof says is that the program behaves the way some specification says it should be but the specification could easily be wrong or incomplete yes oh there we were talking about programs with a hundred lines right whereas on your phone you have tens of millions of lines of code running because many in the audience for this interview will be early stage in their own careers any advice about what direction their research might go in the future what do we need to get done if you were this at that age now where might you go in your research oh well biology is good it has more challenges than computing computing has plenty of challenges left but biology has a lot more and indeed both my wife and my oldest son are biology are biologists so you're paid to say absolutely absolutely but in computing um I'm a little hesitant 15 years ago there was a big fad in computing for Grand Challenges this was right after the success of the sequencing of the human genome yes which is just sort of in my view that put a typical sensible and successful Grand Challenge but it got a lot of publicity and everyone said gosh if we could have Grand Challenges then we could get a lot of money and it would be cool so that a lot of there were a lot of meetings where people's tried to invent Grand Challenges for computing yeah in my opinion for the most part it was not successful they came up with Grand Challenges like a teacher for every learner the problem with which is that yeah it's not so what you should do to get there and it's not clear how you would know that you'd succeeded so unlike the Human Genome Project where it was pretty clear what strategies should be adopted it's extremely clear whether you succeeded or not right so I've tried to come up with Grand Challenges at the time and the I came up with tuned the one that has been the most successful up to now was I said we should reduce highway traffic deaths to zero and my position was this is purely a programming problem because we already have all the necessary sensors and effectors on the cars cameras should be good enough they're good enough for me they should be good enough for the computer yes you just have to forget her right right right the right firm program well now now of course this is a this is common wisdom everybody knows that self-driving cars are coming right right so that was an easy one right broadly speaking I think that I have a story about the evolution of computing and it goes like this in the earliest days we used computers for simulation and whether you were simulating the weather or simulating a payroll the basic idea was the same you built some sort of model in the computer of wall something was going on in the physical world and you ran pewter program and it tell you told you something about what would happen in the physical world right and this was enormous ly successful in a paid-for computing for the first 30 years in it by the way it's not played out by any means it's still going strong but after about 30 years computing got started around 1950 by 1980 Hardware had gotten cheap enough that it was feasible to start using computers to facilitate communication between people yes and so this brought us the Internet and the world wide web and email and chat and Facebook and all these other things and that's also been enormous ly successful in it has given rise to you even more wealth and changes in the world than the Simula simulation wave yes well it's been another 30 odd years excuse me in my view it's wrong it's time for another great wave and I think it's crystal clear what the next great wave is gonna be it's gonna be non-trivial interactions with the physical world and whether that means networks of sensors or programs that can understand your speech and respond to it or self-driving cars or other things that we can't yet it you can imagine not many people know this but for the first 20 or 30 years of its existence overwhelmingly the most important application for the internet was email if you read the founding documents for the ARPANET which was the essentially the prototype for the Internet email isn't mentioned why do you suppose that that is it hadn't thought of so it's very hard to predict what these things are really gonna turn out to be good for and the people that started the ARPANET of humba by Bob Taylor who wasn't one of the most important they didn't know what
it was going to be good for they just knew that it was gonna be good right so the moral is in my view you shouldn't try to plan your the the value of your research too carefully because in many cases it's we're just not smart enough wait we're not able to see far enough into the future to understand what what the value is going to be I think that has to be the last word thank you you bet