Unlike some of his colleagues such as David Tebbutt, I never knew Guy personally, so there’s really nothing I can add in that sense. Yet reading through the comments in David’s wonderful ‘Some words for Guy’ weblog, I came across a pointer to Guy’s very first column for the British computer-magazine Personal Computer World, way back in 1978. (Warning: the whole file is over 16Mb: GoogleDocs version is here.) The article is on p.14, and the last part of it seems amazingly prescient:
“Yet that potential [of the computer] is nearly ended. It was extended by the ignorance of semiconductors designers who decided to imitate computer memory with transistors, rather than looking at the whole field of computer architecture and saying ‘what have we here?’.
“What we have here is a computer which , when asked for the one faulty item in 10,000, has to check all 10,000 to see which it is. How much better to have a computer which merely says to its component parts, ‘Any faulty items report here at once.’
“The ability to give memory that processing power has existed for something like five years already. Associative processing has been largely ignored because the markets for supplying cheaper forms of Von Nuemann components were easier to satisfy – but the limitations of a sequential processor have nearly been reached.
“But not by us, the private users of computers. We are only on the edge of a revolution which will make the printing press, the telephone and the motor car look like minor items on a shopping list, as the population gets ‘on line’. And from here on, the history of computing will be the history of society, not just of calculators.”
His comment about ‘the limitations of a sequential processor have nearly been reached’ might at first seem a bit off, but I think he’s right: all that’s actually been done over the last thirty years has been to try to bypass those limitations by cramming more and more and faster and faster items with the same limits into the one unit of space and effective-time – the limitations haven’t been addressed at all. If so, then we’ve barely even started yet: the past thirty years have been a side-excursion down a wrong-turning, as usual for the wrong reasons (i.e. that it was the cheap-and-quick-and-easy option rather than the most fruitful one), and it may take us some time to get back to the main track again. Very interesting indeed…
Which brings me to another point: about how to do more than merely celebrate a great thinker’s life? Personal reflection is one side of this, yet professional reflection is something different again. The usual suggestion, especially in this context, would be to re-publish selected items from that person’s work: I know some people are already planning to do this with Guy’s writings. Yet what interests me even more is about what we do with a great person’s legacy – how would we continue that legend?
Guy used LiveJournal to document the later progress of his life; it seems to me that there would be real value in an equivalent to record new ideas that are linked to a specific person after their passing. Kind of like academic attribution, or with a blog, the same way that we would use web-links to reference an current article or tweet. Citations not for a completed idea by that person, but to acknowledge further ideas that are in part derived from or influenced by or extend the original work.
So is there some equivalent of LiveJournal that we could create for this, around which references to a specific person could coalesce? The technical side is relatively trivial – some practical problems around security, and ensuring that the work is treated with respect, but that’s about all. Conceptually it sits somewhere between LiveJournal and Wikipedia – much like Wikipedia, in fact, though with different guiding principles.
Seems an idea worth exploring, anyway – comments or suggestions, anyone?
[And, of course, credit to Guy Kewney for triggering the idea.]