Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tech Cult Number Five

Infoworld has a list of the "top seven" tech cults. Number Five is "The Order of the Lisp".

"Like warrior monks driven into hiding, the Order of the Lisp was once a powerful force that lived at the heart of next-generation computing. Closely allied with artificial intelligence and expert systems, the Lisp (or List Processing) language fell into disrepute as those concepts became allied with the dark side in the late 1970s."

I was one of those who went over to "the dark side", working on a number of DARPA Strategic Computing Projects in the 1980's. In fact, one of my proudest moments was being on a "How the Military is Corrupting AI" panel at the American Association for Artificial Intelligence conference in Seattle, and being honored as the "Darth Vader of AI" by Norm Sondheimer of ISI.

Smarter people in our lab, such as Rick Saenz insisted that Lisp in and of itself was a useful thing. He tried to convince Management that we could/should sell a Lisp Development envirionment and build consumer products using Lisp.

I still tell people interested in learning to program that they should learn Lisp first, then all other languages are just a peculiar implementation of the concepts you will acquire.

Lisp teaches you the creation and manipulation of abstractions. That's what all programming is. Lisp gives you the purest way to express abstractions, and the easiest method to manipulate them.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps even better is Scheme (albeit a version of Lisp), since it provides full access to Continuations, and perhaps one could say one doesn't really understand programming unless one understands these things.

    "Only a few programming languages provide full, unrestrained access to the continuation of a computation step. Scheme was the first full production system, providing first catch and then call/cc. Bruce Duba introduced call/cc into SML. Some Smalltalk and Python implementations provide similar access to continuations, though nothing as systematic as Scheme continuations."