17.514 Dijkstra's challenge

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Jan 12 2004 - 08:09:22 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 514.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 10 Jan 2004 09:43:14 +0000
         From: "Ask the Philosopher" <askthephilosopher@sympatico.ca>
         Subject: Re: 17.512 Dijkstra's challenge

On November 19, 2000, for the "Communications of the ACM",Edsger Dijkstra
(11 May 1930 -- 6 August 2002) put forward the following observation about
the central challenge of computing that seems to acknowledge the great
failure of computer science:

"I would therefore like to posit that computing's central challenge, viz.
"How not to make a mess of it", has not been met. On the contrary, most of
our systems are much more complicated than can be considered healthy, and
are too messy and chaotic to be used in comfort and confidence..You see,
while we all know that unmastered complexity is at the root of the misery,
we do not know what degree of simplicity can be obtained, nor to what extent
the intrinsic complexity of the whole design has to show up in the
interfaces. We simply do not know yet the limits of disentaglement. We do
not know yet whether intrinsic intricacy can be distinguished from
accidental intricacy. We do not know yet whether trade-offs will be
possible. We do not know yet whether we can invent for intricacy a
meaningful concept about which we can prove theorems that help. To put it
bluntly, we simply do not know yet what we should be talking about.."

Sheldon Richmond

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