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OSCON Keynote: Turing’s Curse

Jul - 26 - 2013
Nicole C. Engard

First Keynote on the final day of OSCON was Turing’s Curse given by John Graham-Cumming (CloudFlare).

John pointed us to The Mother of All Demos he wanted to talk about the history of computers – because the new stuff isn’t really that new. Cloud computing for example there was a book about this in 1966 (I missed the title). Wifi … also not so new, it was actually used in 1971. Solid state drives … invented in 1976 (only 4MB … but still…).

I couldn’t keep up with John’s entire history lesson! I was never very good at dates and history :) But I’m sure the slides or a video will all of the dates will be online.

The moral of the story – a lot of what we have today was actually already done way before we thought so. So what’s the implication of that? While it sounds depressing that everything you’re doing has been done before, but it’s not really depressing because it shows that there is a great value in a computer science education. We’re in a great age of productivity! We should be thankful that there are all these great ideas that we can build on and make more efficient/faster and link together!

OSCONOne thing we haven’t done is conquer unreliability – software is still unreliable.

“There is no program that given a description of an arbitrary computer program can decide whether the program finishes running or continues to run forever” – 1936 – Turing’s curse.

Basically there are certain things that machines will never be able to do for us. If everything has been done before then what should we do? What we do is come up with better debuggers – work on reliability. We have to help programmers make fewer mistakes and find the mistakes they do make. John would like us to invent this before Episode 7 of Star Wars comes out!


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