Fritz Kunze (co-founder of Franz Incorporated) gave a talk called “Careening through Lisp mind fields.” He was very informal in his delivery and had lots of humorous anecdotes to go along with his recollections and “armchair” speculations. Combined with the opening “meta talk” by Steel and Gabriel and also JonL’s extremely informal “meaning of life” type talk, one gets the impression that many of the major players in the Lisp world are unable to go along with any sort of standard social convention. Somehow, some way… they all have to find they own way of doing things and their own quirky personal inflections impact everything they do.
Early on in his talk he told a story about the creator of Eliza: Joseph Weizenbaum. (Weizenbaum died earlier this year, by the way.) The story goes that he walked into someones office and the guy in there says, hey– check out my program. You ask it questions and it answers yes or no! So they tried a few, and sure enough, the answers were right every single time. Weizenbaum asked him if it answers questions that are in German. The guy says, sure, but you have to do the typing. So Weizenbaum types in a couple of questions in German and the answers were correct in both cases. “I have to think about this,” he said, and he stomped off to his office. Not too long later he had Eliza up and running. And the program that inspired him? It just gave a “yes” if there were an odd number of characters in the question! (Weizenbaum would later go through a slightly paranoid/Luddite type phase when he was shocked at how ordinary people ascribed ‘real’ intelligence to his Eliza program. He criticized the role of artificial intelligence in society with his book, Computer Power and Human Reason.)
After showing some images created by an extremely unusual Lisp-based drawing program (and talking about some Eliza spinoffs), he then delved into the link between aspergers, autism, emotional immaturity and programming ability. He had a slide outlining some personality traits and a collective hush fell over the room as we all realized that we were part of some sort of incomprehensible evolutionary programmer-genius phenomenon. Okay, okay… I’m exaggerating. But the slide was interesting: it included stuff like “uncomfortable at parties” and “dislikes travelling”. (Are you a misunderstood genius? Take this quiz!) He talked about some of the problems in managing Lisp guys: “There’s a limit to the number of smart people you can put in a room. Things will break down and they won’t talk to each other.” After some more anecdotes and also some unscientific speculations, he concluded that therapy was the only solution… therapy, that is, for the normal people that have to work with the “asperger” guys! After a while, the managers and salesmen begin to emulate the smart people, he explained. If the company culture as whole absorbs too many “aspergerisms”, then the business ceases to be able to talk to its customers!
He concluded his talk with some ideas about the future of lisp. He thought that it would be possible for Lisp to reposition itself as sort of the ultimate DSL for making web pages. The problem, though, is that the Lisp community is made up of people who can neither compromise nor give up control. He proposed that a non-profit Lisp foundation be set up with the goal of producing a new Lisp within 12 months. “If you study history, you repeat yourself over and over again,” he said. “You’ve got to do something brand new!”
JonL stood up immediately following the talk: “As usual, I couldn’t disagree more with everything you said!” JonL was clearly disgusted, and… uh… unwilling to compromise on any of the points what were presented. “Nothing we can do today can change Lisp’s position in the market,” he concluded.