Carl Hewitt on cloud computing, scalable semantics, and Wikipedia

It was my great privilege to interview Carl Hewitt for this week’s Innovators show. He is principally known for work dating back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he helped lay the foundations for a declarative, message-oriented model of computation. Then, and for decades thereafter, the virtues of that model were not widely appreciated because the problems it solves were not evident. Now, in an era of multi-core systems, cloud-based computation, and global interconnectivity, it makes all kinds of sense.

In this conversation, we review the themes Carl sounded in this recent talk at Stanford. (Video is here, and an audio-only version I made for myself is here.)

In one of the most striking moments in that talk, Carl says:

What can I change? Just me. For anything else, I send a message, I say please, and I hope for the best.

Then he laughs and adds:

Does this sound like some circumstances you are familiar with?

Having thought deeply, for 40 years, about the intersection of computation and human affairs, he has arrived at an elegant synthesis: The same organizational and communication patterns govern both realms. As well they should, since the two are now and forever intertwingled.

At the end of our conversation, we turn to Carl’s critique of Wikipedia. He raises important questions about how Wikipedia’s cadre of mostly-anonymous administrators, dedicated to the codification of conventional knowledge, come into conflict with academics and researchers whose work pushes the boundaries and conflates the categories of conventional knowledge.

5 Comments

  1. I just read the critique of Wikipedia. I’m no Wikipedia fanboy, and I know there are valid points to be made along these lines; but the tone of that article came across as bitter and slightly bonkers. The relentless barrage of references, as if they made his point more correct; the crazed typography; the more-or-less ad hominem attacks. It didn’t paint his alternative world of academia in a good light to me, at any rate.

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