Does The Tech Industry Need A History Lesson?

from the looking-back-before-you-look-forward dept

Someone anonymously pointed us to a fascinating interview with Alan Kay, famed computer scientist who is partly responsible for an awful lot of the technology you use today. The interview touches on a variety of interesting subjects (including why he dislikes what computers have become), but perhaps the most interesting is his complaint that the tech industry always looks forward and never looks back. Specifically, he's talking about how few people seem to recognize the ideas that Doug Englebart showed the world almost forty years ago. Basically, he's upset that in always looking forward, we're either recreating what was done before or completely missing out on some of the better ideas that came before. This is quite interesting, as we've said plenty of times, innovation is an ongoing process rather than brilliant ideas that come out of nowhere. And, part of that process is building on the ideas of those who came before you to make them better. There is something to be said for coming up with alternative routes -- either to the same idea or to different ones -- but it's always helpful to look at what those who came before you have said, to see if there's more that can be built on. So, while there are plenty of stories of history (unfortunately) repeating itself in Silicon Valley, is it time that folks who work in this industry started signing up for history lessons to help them better think about what the future could hold?
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  1. identicon
    MyNameIsMatt, 8 Feb 2007 @ 2:15pm

    The sentiment is right, but...

    The sentiment is right, but he is looking at the past. He's looking back the his Xerox days when there were big corporate technology labs setup for studying these things. Today's successes are now mavericks who work out of their garages.

    He also falls into the too common techie belief that easy to use it stupid. Now that computers are about as common as cars, you can't have a device that works for lots of people (we still have plenty of flaws), and expect them to go through some kind of extensive learning curve. Sure, there could be benefits as you learn something more sophisticated and more power once you know how to use it, but the computer wouldn't be a ubiquitous today if it wasn't so "easy to use" (again, it's not really easy to use yet, but I digress).

    I like the sentiment he throws out, and part of the problem that highlights correctly is because of the education we get in technology at school. Back in his day, the computer scientist was really an engineer. Today a computer scientist is a computer scientist and more often a coder than a traditional engineer. We aren't looking to change the tools, but to use the tools to their optimum.

    I could go on, but he's right and he's wrong. Although, when isn't that true?

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