Lists of Bests

Chris Ford of ThoughtWorks has put together his list of the most important academic papers in computer science. This is becoming a thing: Michael Feathers and Fogus have also published such lists.

Chris set three criteria for inclusion in his list:

The paper must have changed the world. (I.e., they must truly be important.)

The paper must have changed his perspective. (This makes it personal.)

Only one paper is allowed from each decade. (This makes the list interesting.)

His list includes some choices that are hard to argue with, like Alan Turing’s “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” and Claud Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.”

I thought about trying to put together my own list, and maybe I will sometime, but I realized as I thought about it that all the papers I would choose are already in this list.

Killer Robots etc.

Elon Musk is seriously worried about artificial intelligence. He’s donated ten million dollars to the Future of Life Institute to ensure that AI research is beneficial.

I’ll grant you that ten million is chump change to Elon Musk, but the Institute has the word “catalyze” in its mission statement, and we all know that this means they expect small nudges in the right places to have huge impacts.

I’m trying not to be cynical because I think that Musk’s concern is legitimate, and I hope humanity does take the right steps to avoid a future of killer robots and an Internet of Evil Things. And maybe the consciousness-raising that the Institute is doing will be enough. But I’m going to have to see a few practical programs before they get my ten million.

That Writing Book

Notes toward an introduction to a book on writing that I still haven’t written, and perhaps a hint as to why:

If you want to know how to master the craft of writing, read Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story. To the best of my knowledge, he’s the only story writer who has actually explained how to do it. That’s not quite right: there are a lot of screenwriters who have explained the craft of screenwriting in picky detail. Apparently in that field understanding the craft is necessary. Apparently you can’t write a decent screenplay by putting down words at random and eliminating those that don’t feel right. Writing fiction or nonfiction stories (asterisk; ref to Franklin book) is different. That’s exactly how most of us do it. It’s certainly how I do it. So you don’t look to writers like me for a tutorial on the craft of writing. If on the other hand what you’re looking for is…

I’m not sure what comes next.

The Machine

I’d love to see HP pull off something game-changing — and The Machine promises to be just that.

It’s the biggest project underway in HP Labs, involving innovations in semiconductor physics, photonics, systems engineering, and software architecture. And entirely eliminating the need to read data into or write it out of memory seems pretty game-changing. And that’s what the Memristors HP is producing will do. Removing the distinction between memory and storage will require fundamental changes at the operating system level, so a new operating system is part of the project.

“Current systems can’t handle where we are headed,” HP says, “and we need a new solution.”

Developers will be able to get their hands on a simulator next year.