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Ode to Joy

Posted by daniel on September 10, 2003 at 6:14 AM PDT

Bill Joy is leaving Sun after 21 years. People speculate on what he'll do next - I'm hoping he'll blog for us at In an "Ode to Joy", I opened up my vi editor and coded up a simple Jini application on my Mac OS X box with its BSD UNIX core.

Like many of you, I've taken a look back at Joy's article Why the future doesn't need us - the cover story of the April, 2000 edition of Wired magazine. I'm not surprised to find that it has held up well. Much of what he says takes on a richer meaning in the context of what we have come to know in the three and a half years since the piece was written. In the wake of recent virus attacks consider the following caution that

we have yet to come to terms with the fact that the most compelling 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology - pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before. Specifically, robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate. A bomb is blown up only once - but one bot can become many, and quickly get out of control.

People have seized on the following phrase to tag Joy as a Luddite. "I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals." He clearly details his technology background and explicitly states, "I trust it is clear that I am not a Luddite. I have always, rather, had a strong belief in the value of the scientific search for truth and in the ability of great engineering to bring material progress."

Joy is, however, cautious. He's spoken many times about the importance of exception handling in Java and the benefits of discovering as many of those things that can go wrong with a system as possible to compile time. He expresses the broader view of this concern in the Wired piece as follows.

But now, with the prospect of human-level computing power in about 30 years, a new idea suggests itself: that I may be working to create tools which will enable the construction of the technology that may replace our species. How do I feel about this? Very uncomfortable. Having struggled my entire career to build reliable software systems, it seems to me more than likely that this future will not work out as well as some people may imagine. My personal experience suggests we tend to overestimate our design abilities.

In the Also today section we also link to my coverage of two of Joy's JavaOne appearances. In 1998 he was part of a JavaOne Panel that looked ahead to 2005. Joy predicted that there will be 8,000 Java packages with 200,000 classes, most of which "won't be written by Sun or even by today's leaders." In his Java University keynote he spoke of the different webs. He also said "You need to assume that devices are networked," he said. Further, he said we "need a pervasive and persistent wireless network. [That] will change everything."

In today's featured WeblogsChet Haase writes about VolatileImage:Now you See it, Now you Don't. Haase recommends that Swing begin using the VolatileImage API because it's hardware accelerated, performance of Rendering-to and Copying-from is faster than BufferedImage, and it can go away at any time. In this blog entry he focuses on the "Volatile" part of VolatileImage.

In other featured weblogs, Joshua Marinacci is back from the beach and submits an entry Passive Tech on the Ocean. He asks why we don't see more "Technology that just fades into the background, letting the user get on with the real task." Joshua then challenges you to consider an app you use and to consider how it would benefit from more development time (he suggests 10 years - you may want to stick with the near future). The core of the challenge is to think about making existing features more passive. Simon Brown's entry Casting affects performance points to a forum based on performance.

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