Tuesday, April 29, 2003

If You Meet Alan Turing on the Road, Kill him!

I'm back from the O'Reilly conference, where I gave a talk with the same title as this blog entry. Since I haven't written up the talk, and as you know if you saw it, the slides don't really stand on their own (mostly photos of Alan Turing and elephants, Buddhist paintings, and a screen shot of Police Quest), I'll try to put the central ideas down in this blog. About once a day, I'll write up the main point of each slide, and then when I'm done I'll clean it all up and post it as a single page.

First, though, I'll just introduce the basic premise. You may recognize the title as a play on the Zen koan (pronounced like Cohen) "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" With the caveat that I'm neither a Buddhist nor a scholar of East Asian Studies, this doesn't tell us to literally murder the Buddha, but to stop uncritically accepting outsiders as our path to enlightenment.

Similarly, we as programmers and computer scientists have been imprisoned in a narrow, computational, formal mathematics-derived idea of programming for sixty years now, and if we're to make forward progress, if we're to build software that meets the needs of a highly interactive adaptive world, then we need to break some of those assumptions. Over the next few weeks, I'll be variously talking about some of those assumptions (or what Buddhists might call the "mirrors of illusion"), and what new things we could do instead.