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
    _Jon, 8 Feb 2007 @ 8:00am

    I think part of the problem is the "not invented here" syndrome that many industries have.

    Another part is that most code (if you want to be that specific) is not generic enough to be used. Many applications that were designed to be "modular" and "re-usable" really aren't. Look at how bloated Windows is, for example. And they haven't reached a point in their life-cycle that modularity is paying off.

    A third part is related to patents and trademarks - a topic you touch on frequently. Companies will try something new just to avoid being sued as a "that looks / feels / acts just like our product", and a lawsuit ensues.

    A fourth part is related to the need to be new and different. Any product that is built upon another product is going to be compared to the previous product. Not many starups / ventures are going to want to be saddled with being labeled a "clone" or having the "baggage" of a previous product. So they go their own way.

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