18 August 2009

What Donald Knuth thinks is worth working on.

From an interview with the Free Software Magazine:

Maybe you feel that some of today’s technologies are still unsatisfactory. If you weren’t busy writing your masterpieces, what technology would you try to revolutionize and in what way?

Well certainly I would try to work for world peace and justice. I tend to think of myself as a citizen of the world; I am pleasantly excited when I see the world getting smaller and people of different cultures working together and respecting their differences. Conversely I am distressed when I learn about deep-seated hatred or when I see people exploiting others or shoving them around pre-emptively.

In what way could the desired revolution come about? Who knows… but I suspect that “Engineers Without Borders” are closer than anybody else to a working strategy by which geeks like me could help.
I totally agree with Prof. Knuth on this!

Maybe the innovations that we need today are more social than they are technological. After all, we all have food, shelter, readily available medical care, and an internet connection. The next thing we'd need is peace and happiness!

2 comments:

catenary said...

When you say that we all have food, shelter, etc., you mean us as academics or geeks, right? Because Knuth's stated goals are not peace and happiness (though happiness is nice), they are peace and justice, and our societies are still unjust, some of them deeply unjust.

Robert said...

You are right, Jorge!
But I meant all people in developed countries have food and shelter, even the homeless beggars have welfare dormitories which are readily available for them... that they don't accept those offers of help is just one sign of how complex things are with happiness.

I am still so naive to believe that a fight for happiness will automatically included the necessary amount of justice. I also find justice much harder to define...
Compare a high-performance manager at a big company and an employee at Tim Horton's. One makes millions, the other just some dollars. Yet both can be quite unhappy.
I don't want to ask myself whether that distribution of income is just, because I think there are other important pieces to happiness that we have to consider.

I will have to leave that though unfinished because I fell a sudden strong urge to work on my thesis.

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