Lex Fridman Podcast - #126 – James Gosling: Java, JVM, Emacs, and the Early Days of Computing

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The following is a conversation with James Gosling, the founder and lead

designer behind the Java programming language, which in many indices is the

most popular programming language in the world, or is always at least in the top

two or three.

We only had a limited time for this conversation, but I’m sure we’ll talk

again several times in this podcast.

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As a side note, let me say that Java is the language with which I first learned

object oriented programming, and with it, the art and science of software


Also early on in my undergraduate education, I took a course on concurrent

programming with Java.

Looking back at that time, before I fell in love with neural networks, the art

of parallel computing was both algorithmically and philosophically

fascinating to me.

The concept of a computer in my mind before then was something that does

one thing at a time, the idea that we could create an abstraction of

parallelism where you could do many things at the same time, while still

guaranteeing stability and correctness, was beautiful.

While some folks in college took drugs to expand their mind, I took concurrent


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And now here’s my conversation with James Gosling.

I’ve read somewhere that the square root of two is your favorite irrational number.

I have no idea where that got started.

Is there any truth to it?

Is there anything in mathematics or numbers that you find beautiful?

Oh, well, there’s lots of things in math that’s really beautiful.

I used to consider myself really good at math and these days I consider

myself really bad at math.

I never really had a thing for the square root of two, but when I was a teenager,

there was this book called The Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers,

which for some reason I read through and damn near memorized the whole thing.

And I started this weird habit of when I was like filling out checks or paying for things

with credit cards, I would want to make the receipt add up to a new number.

Is there some numbers that stuck with you that just kind of make you feel good?

They all have a story and fortunately, I’ve actually mostly forgotten all of them.

Are they, uh, so like 42, uh, well, yeah, I mean, that one 42 is pretty magical.

And then the irrationals, I mean, but is there a square root of two story in there

somewhere, how did that come about?

It’s, it’s like the only number that has destroyed a religion in which way, well,

the, the pathogorians, they, they believed that all numbers were perfect and you

could re represent anything as, as a, as a rational number.

And, um, in that, in that time period, um, the, this proof came out that there was no,

you know, rational fraction whose value was equal to the square root of two.

And that, that means nothing in this world, right?


So, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so,

in this world is perfect, not even mathematics.

Well, it means that your definition of perfect was imperfect.

Well then, then there’s the Gaitl incompleteness theorems and the 20th

century that ruined it once again for everybody.


Although, although, although Goerl’s theorem, um, you know, the lesson I take

from Goerl’s theorem is not that, you know, there are things you can’t know,

which is fundamentally what it says.

But people want black and white answers.

They want true or false.

But if you allow a three state logic

that is true, false, or maybe,

then life’s good.

I feel like there’s a parallel to modern political discourse

in there somewhere, but let me ask.

So with your kind of early love or appreciation

of the beauty of mathematics,

do you see a parallel between that world

and the world of programming?

Programming is all about logical structure,

understanding the patterns that come out of computation,

understanding sort of, I mean, it’s often like the path

through the graph of possibilities to find a short route.

Meaning like find a short program

that gets the job done kind of thing.

But so then on the topic of irrational numbers,

do you see programming?

You just painted it so cleanly.

It’s a little of this trajectory

to find like a nice little program,

but do you see it as fundamentally messy?

Maybe unlike mathematics?

I don’t think of it as, I mean, you know,

you watch somebody who’s good at math do math

and you know, often it’s fairly messy.

Sometimes it’s kind of magical.

When I was a grad student, one of the students,

his name was Jim Sachs, was he had this reputation

of being sort of a walking, talking human

theorem proving machine.

And if you were having a hard problem with something,

you could just like accost him in the hall

and say, Jim, and he would do this funny thing

where he would stand up straight.

His eyes would kind of defocus.

He’d go, you know, just like something in today’s movies.

And then he’d straighten up and say n log n and walk away.

And you’d go, well, okay, so n log n is the answer.

How did he get there?

By which time he’s, you know, down the hallway somewhere.

Yeah, he’s just the oracle, the black box

that just gives you the answer.

Yeah, and then you have to figure out the path

from the question to the answer.

I think in one of the videos I watched,

you mentioned Don Knuth, well, at least recommending his,

you know, his book is something people should read.

Oh, yeah.

But in terms of, you know, theoretical computer science,

do you see something beautiful that has been inspiring

to you, speaking of n log n, in your work

on programming languages, that’s in that whole world

of algorithms and complexity and, you know,

these kinds of more formal mathematical things?

Or did that not really stick with you

in your programming life?

It did stick pretty clearly for me,

because one of the things that I care about

is being able to sort of look at a piece of code

and be able to prove to myself that it works.

And, you know, so for example, I find that I’m at odds

with many of the people around me over issues

about like how you lay out a piece of software, right?

You know, so software engineers get really cranky

about how they format the documents that are the programs,

you know, where they put new lines and where they put,

you know.

The braces.

The braces and all the rest of that, right.

And I tend to go for a style that’s very dense.

Minimize the white space.

Yeah, well, to maximize the amount

that I can see at once, right?

So I like to be able to see a whole function

and to understand what it does,

rather than have to go scroll, scroll, scroll

and remember, right?

Yeah, I’m with you on that.

Yeah, that’s.

And people don’t like that.

Yeah, I’ve had, you know, multiple times

when engineering teams have staged

what was effectively an intervention.

You know, where they invite me to a meeting

and everybody’s arrived before me

and they all look at me and say,

James, about your coding style, I’m sort of an odd person

to be programming because I don’t think very well verbally.

I am just naturally a slow reader.

I’m what most people would call a visual thinker.

So when you think about a program,

what do you see?

I see pictures, right?

So when I look at a piece of code on a piece of paper,

it very quickly gets transformed into a picture.

And, you know, it’s almost like a piece of machinery

with, you know, this connected to that and.

Like these gears and different sizes.

Yeah, yeah, I see them more like that

than I see the sort of verbal structure

or the lexical structure of letters.

So then when you look at the program,

that’s why you want to see it all in the same place,

then you can just map it to something visual.

Yeah, and it just kind of like,

like it leaps off the page at me and.

Yeah, what are the inputs, what are the outputs?

What the heck is this thing doing?

Yeah, yeah.

Getting a whole vision of it.

Can we go back into your memory?

Memory, long term memory access.

What’s the first program you’ve ever written?

Oh, I have no idea what the first one was.

I mean, I know the first machine

that I learned to program on.

What is it?

Was a PDP eight at the University of Calgary.

Do you remember the specs?

Oh yeah, so the thing had 4K of RAM.


12 bit words.

The clock rate was,

it was about a third of a megahertz.

Oh, so you didn’t even get to the M, okay.

Yeah, yeah, so we’re like 10,000 times faster these days.

10,000 times faster these days.

And was this kind of like a super computer,

like a serious computer for.

No, the PDP eight I was the first thing

that people were calling like mini computer.

Got it.

They were sort of inexpensive enough

that a university lab could maybe afford to buy one.

And was there time sharing, all that kind of stuff?

There actually was a time sharing OS for that,

but it wasn’t used really widely.

The machine that I learned on was one

that was kind of hidden in the back corner

of the computer center.

And it was bought as part of a project

to do computer networking,

but they didn’t actually use it very much.

It was mostly just kind of sitting there

and it was kind of sitting there

and I noticed it was just kind of sitting there.

And so I started fooling around with it

and nobody seemed to mind.

So I just kept doing that and.

And it had a keyboard and like a monitor, are we?

Oh, this is way before monitors were common.

So it was literally a model 33 teletype

with a paper tape reader.

Okay, so the user interface wasn’t very good.

Yeah, it was the first computer ever built

with integrated circuits, but by integrated circuits,

I mean that they would have like 10 or 12 transistors

on one piece of silicon,

not the 10 or 12 billion that the machines have today.

So what did that, I mean, feel like if you remember those?

I mean, did you have kind of inklings of the magic

of exponential kind of improvement of Moore’s law

of the potential of the future that,

was that your fingertips kind of thing?

Or was it just a cool?

Yeah, it was just a toy.

I had always liked building stuff,

but one of the problems with building stuff

is that you need to have parts.

You need to have pieces of wood or wire or switches

or stuff like that.

And those all cost money.

And here you could build.

You could build arbitrarily complicated things

and I didn’t need any physical materials.

It required no money.

That’s a good way to put programming.

You’re right, it’s, if you love building things,

completely accessible, you don’t need anything.

Anybody from anywhere could just build

something really cool.

Yeah, yeah.

If you’ve got access to a computer,

you can build all kinds of crazy stuff.

And when you were somebody like me

who had like really no money, and I mean,

I remember just lusting after being

able to buy like a transistor.

And when I would do sort of electronics kind of projects,

they were mostly made, done by like dumpster diving for trash.

And one of my big hauls was discarded relay racks

from the back of the phone company switching center.

Oh, nice.

That was the big memorable treasure.

Oh, yeah.

Yeah, that was a really.

What do you use that for?

I built a machine that played tic tac toe.


Out of relays.

Of course, the thing that was really hard

was that all the relays required a specific voltage.

But getting a power supply that would do that voltage

was pretty hard.

And since I had a bunch of trashed television sets,

I had to sort of cobble together something

that was wrong but worked.

So I was actually running these relays at 300 volts.

And none of the electrical connections

were like properly sealed off.

Surprised you survived that period of your life.

Oh, for so many reasons.

For so many reasons.

I mean, it’s pretty common for teenage geeks

to discover, oh, thermite.

That’s real easy to make.


Well, I’m glad you did.

But do you remember what program in Calgary

that you wrote, anything that stands out?

And what language?

Well, so mostly anything of any size was assembly code.

And actually, before I learned assembly code,

there was this programming language

on the PDP 8 called Focal 5.

And Focal 5 was kind of like a really stripped down Fortran.

And I remember building programs that did things

like play blackjack or solitaire.

Or for some reason or other, the things that I really liked

were ones where they were just like plotting graphs.

So something with like a function or data,

and then you plot it.


Yeah, I did a bunches of those things

and went, ooh, pretty pictures.

And so this would like print out, again, no monitors.

Right, so it was like on a teletype.


So it’s using something that’s kind of like a typewriter.

And then using those to plot functions.

So when, I apologize to romanticize things,

but when did you first fall in love with programming?

What was the first programming language?

Like as a serious, maybe, software engineer,

where you thought this is a beautiful thing?

I guess I never really thought of any particular language

as being beautiful, because it was never really

about the language for me.

It was about what you could do with it.

And even today, people try to get me

into arguments about particular forms of syntax

for this or that.

And I’m like, who cares?

It’s about what you can do, not how you spell the word.

And so back in those days, I learned like PL1 and Fortran

and COBOL, and by the time that people were willing to hire me

to do stuff, it was mostly assembly code and PDP assembly

code and Fortran code and control data assembly

code for the CDC 6400, which was an early, I guess,


Even though that supercomputer has less compute power

than my phone by a lot.

And that was mostly, like you said, Fortran world.

That said, you’ve also showed appreciation

for the greatest language ever that I

think everyone agrees is Lisp.

Well, Lisp is definitely on my list of the greatest ones

that have existed.

Is it at number one?

Or I mean, are you, I mean?

You know, the thing is that it’s, you know,

I wouldn’t put it number one, no.

Is it the parentheses?

What do you not love about Lisp?

Well, I guess the number one thing

to not love about it is so freaking many parentheses.

On the love thing is, you know, out of those tons

of parentheses, you actually get an interesting language


And I’ve always thought that there was a friendlier version

of Lisp hiding out there somewhere.

But I’ve never really spent much time thinking about it.

But, you know, so like up the food chain for me from Lisp

is Simula, which a very small number of people

have ever used.

But a lot of people, I think you had a huge influence, right,

on the programming.

But in the Simula, I apologize if I’m wrong on this,

but is that one of the first functional languages?

Or no?

No, it was the first object oriented programming language.

It’s really where object oriented and languages sort

of came together.

And it was also the language where coroutines first showed

up as a part of the language.

So you could have a programming style that was,

you could think of it as sort of multi threaded

with a lot of parallelism.


There’s ideas of parallelism in there?


Yeah, so that was back, you know,

so the first Simula spec was Simula 67.

Like 1967?



So it had coroutines, which are almost threads.

The thing about coroutines is that they

don’t have true concurrency.

So you can get away without really complex locking.

You can’t useably do coroutines on the multi core machine.

Or if you try to do coroutines on the multi core machine,

you don’t actually get to use the multiple cores.

Either that or you, because you start then

having to get into the universe of semaphores and locks

and things like that.

But in terms of the style of programming,

you could write code and think of it as being multi threaded.

The mental model was very much a multi threaded one.

And all kinds of problems you could

approach very differently.

To return to the world of Lisp for a brief moment,

at CMU you wrote a version of Emacs

that I think was very impactful on the history of Emacs.

What was your motivation for doing so?

At that time, so that was in like 85 or 86.

I had been using Unix for a few years.

And most of the editing was this tool

called ED, which was sort of an ancestor of VI.

Is it a pretty good editor, not a good editor?

Well, if what you’re using, if your input device

is a teletype, it’s pretty good.

It’s certainly more humane than TECO,

which was kind of the common thing

in a lot of the DEC universe at the time.

TECO is spelled TK, is that the?

No, TECO, T E C O, the text editor and corrector.

Corrector, wow, so many features.

And the original Emacs came out as,

so Emacs stands for editor macros.

And TECO had a way of writing macros.

And so the original Emacs from MIT

started out as a collection of macros for TECO.

But then the Emacs style got popular originally at MIT.

And then people did a few other implementations

of Emacs that were, the code base was entirely different,

but it was sort of the philosophical style

of the original Emacs.

What was the philosophy of Emacs?

And by the way, were all the implementations always in C?

And then how does Lisp fit into the picture?

No, so the very first Emacs was written

as a bunch of macros for the TECO text editor.

Wow, that’s so interesting.

And the macro language for TECO was probably

the most ridiculously obscure format.

If you just look at a TECO program on a page,

you think it was just random characters.

It really looks like just line noise.

So it’s kind of like LaTeX or something.

Oh, way worse than LaTeX.

Way, way worse than LaTeX.

But if you use TECO a lot, which I did,

TECO was completely optimized for touch typing at high speed.

So there were no two character commands.

Well, there were a few, but mostly they

were just one character.

So every character on the keyboard was a separate command.

And actually, every character on the keyboard

was usually two or three commands

because you could hit Shift and Control and all

of those things.

It’s just a way of very tightly encoding it.

And mostly what Emacs did was it made that visual.

So one way to think of TECO is use Emacs with your eyes

closed, where you have to maintain

a mental model of a mental image of your document.

You have to go, OK, so the cursor is between the A and the E.

And I want to exchange those, so I do these things.

So it is almost exactly the Emacs command set.

Well, it’s roughly the same as Emacs command set,

but using Emacs with your eyes closed.

So part of what Emacs added to the whole thing

was being able to visually see what

you were editing in a form that matched your document.

And a lot of things changed in the command set because it

was programmable.

It was really flexible.

You could add new commands for all kinds of things.

And then people rewrote Emacs multiple times in Lisp.

There was one done at MIT for the Lisp machine.

There was one done for Multics.

And one summer, I got a summer job

to work on the Pascal compiler for Multics.

And that was actually the first time I used Emacs.

To write the compilers.

You’ve worked on compilers, too.

That’s fascinating.

Yeah, so I did a lot of work.

I spent a really intense three months

working on this Pascal compiler, basically living in Emacs.

And it was the one written in Mac Lisp by Bernie Greenberg.

And I thought, wow, this is just a way better way

to do editing.

And then I got back to CMU, where

we had one of everything and two of a bunch of things

and four of a few things.

And since I mostly worked in the Unix universe,

and Unix didn’t have an Emacs, I decided

that I needed to fix that problem.

So I wrote this implementation of Emacs in C,

because at the time, C was really the only language that

worked on Unix.

And you were comfortable with C as well at that point?

Yeah, at that time, I had done a lot of C coding.

This was in, like, 86.

And it was running well enough for me

to use it to edit itself within a month or two.

And then it kind of took over the university.

And it spread outside.

Yeah, and then it went outside.

And largely because Unix kind of took over the research

community on the ARPANET, and Emacs

was kind of the best editor out there.

It kind of took over.

And there was actually a brief period

where I actually had login IDs on every nonmilitary host

on the ARPANET.

Because people would say, oh, can we install this?

And I’d like, well, yeah, but you’ll need some help.

The days when security wasn’t.

When nobody cared.

Nobody cared.

I can ask briefly, what were those early days of ARPANET

and the internet like?

Did you, again, sorry for the silly question,

but could you have possibly imagined

that the internet would look like what it is today?

Some of it is remarkably unchanged.

So one of the things that I noticed really early on

when I was at Carnegie Mellon was

that a lot of social life became centered around the ARPANET.

So things like between email and text messaging.

Because text messaging was a part of the ARPANET

really early on.

There were no cell phones, but you’re sitting at a terminal

and you’re typing stuff.

So essentially email, or what is text messaging?

Well, just like a one line message.

Oh, cool.

So like chat.

Like chat.

So it’s like sending a one line message to somebody.

And so pretty much everything from arranging lunch

to going out on dates was all like driven by social media.

Social media.

Right, in the 80s.

Easier than phone calls, yeah.

And my life had gotten to where I

was living on social media from the early mid 80s.

And so when it sort of transformed into the internet

and social media explodes, I was kind of like,

what’s the big deal?

It’s just a scale thing.

Right, the scale thing is just astonishing.

But the fundamentals in some ways remain the same.

The fundamentals have hardly changed.

And the technologies behind the networking

have changed significantly.

The watershed moment of going from the ARPANET

to the internet.

And then people starting to just scale and scale and scale.

I mean, the scaling that happened in the early 90s

and the way that so many vested interests fought the internet.

Oh, interesting.

What was the, oh, because you can’t really

control the internet.

Yeah, so who fought the internet?

So fundamentally, the cable TV companies

and broadcasters and phone companies,

at the deepest fibers of their being, they hated the internet.

But it was often kind of a funny thing because, so think

of a cable company.

Most of the employees of a cable company,

their job is getting TV shows, movies, whatever,

out to their customers.

They view their business as serving their customers.

But as you climb up the hierarchy in the cable companies,

that view shifts because really the business of the cable

companies had always been selling eyeballs

to advertisers.


And that view of a cable company

didn’t really dawn on most people who

worked at the cable companies.

But I had various dust ups with various cable companies

where you could see in the stratified layers

of the corporation that this view of the reason

that you have cable TV is to capture eyeballs.

So they didn’t see it that way.

Well, so most of the people who worked at the phone company

or at the cable companies, their view

was that their job was getting delightful content out

to their customers.

And their customers would pay for that.

Higher up, they viewed this as a way of attracting eyeballs

to them.

And then what they were really doing

was selling the eyeballs that were glued to their content

to the advertisers.

To the advertisers, yeah.

And so the internet was a competition in that sense.


They were right.

Well, yeah.

I mean, there was one proposal that we sent,

one detailed proposal that we wrote up back

at Sun in the early 90s that was essentially like, look,

anybody with internet technologies,

anybody can become provider of content.

So you could be distributing home movies

to your parents or your cousins or who are anywhere else.

So anybody can become a publisher.

Wow, you were thinking about that already.

Netflix, Netflix, YouTube.

Yeah, that was like in the early 90s.

And we thought, this would be great.

And the kind of content we were thinking about at the time

was like home movies, kids essays,

stuff from grocery stores or a restaurant

that they could actually start sending information about.

That’s brilliant.

And the reaction of the cable companies

was like, fuck no.

Because then we’re out of business.

What is it about companies that, because they could have just,

they could have been ahead of that wave.

They could have listened to that.

And they could have.

They didn’t see a path to revenue.

Somewhere in there, there’s a lesson for big companies,

like to listen, to try to anticipate the renegade,

the out there, out of the box, people like yourself

in the early days writing proposals

about what this could possibly be.

Well, and that wasn’t.

If you’re in a position where you’re

making truckloads of money off of a particular business model,

the whole thought of leaping the chasm,

you can see, oh, new models that are more effective

are emerging, so like digital cameras versus film cameras.

Why take the leap?

Because you’re making so much money off of film.

And in my past at Sun, one of our big customers was Kodak.

And I ended up interacting with folks from Kodak quite a lot.

And they actually had a big digital camera research

and digital imaging business, or development group.

And they knew that you just look at the trend lines

and you look at the emerging quality of these digital


And you can just plot it on the graph.

And it’s like, sure, film is better today.

But digital is improving like this.

The lines are going to cross.

And the point at which the lines cross

is going to be a collapse in their business.

And they could see that.

They absolutely knew that.

The problem is that up to the point where they hit the wall,

they were making truckloads of money.

And when they did the math, it never

started to make sense for them to kind of lead the charge.

And part of the issues for a lot of companies

for this kind of stuff is that if you’re

going to leap over a chasm like that,

like with Kodak going from film to digital,

that’s a transition that’s going to take a while.

We had fights like this with people over smart cards.

The smart cards fights were just ludicrous.

But that’s where visionary leadership comes in, right?

Somebody needs to roll in and say, then take the leap.

Well, it’s partly take the leap,

but it’s also partly take the hit.

Take the hit in the short term.

So you can draw the graphs you want that show that if we leap

from here, on our present trajectory, we’re doing this

and there’s a cliff.

If we force ourselves into a transition

and we proactively do that, we can be on the next wave.

But there will be a period when we’re in a trough.

And pretty much always there ends up being a trough

as you leap the chasm.

But the way that public companies work on this planet,

they’re reporting every quarter.

And the one thing that a CEO must never do is take a big hit.

Take a big hit.

Over some quarter.

And many of these transitions involve a big hit

for a period of time, one, two, three quarters.

And so you get some companies and like Tesla and Amazon

are really good examples of companies that take huge hits.

But they have the luxury of being

able to ignore the stock market for a little while.

And that’s not so true today, really.

But in the early days of both of those companies,

they both did this thing of, I don’t care

about the quarterly reports.

I care about how many happy customers we have.

And having as many happy customers as possible

can often be an enemy of the bottom line.

Yeah, so how do they make that work?

I mean, Amazon operated in the negative for a long time.

It’s like investing into the future.


But so Amazon and Google and Tesla and Facebook, a lot

of those had what amounted to patient money,

often because there’s like a charismatic central figure who

has a really large block of stock.

And they can just make it so.

So on that topic, just maybe it’s a small tangent,

but you’ve gotten the chance to work

with some pretty big leaders.

What are your thoughts about on the Tesla side, Elon Musk

leadership, on the Amazon side, Jeff Bezos,

all of these folks with large amounts of stock and vision

in their company?

I mean, they’re founders, either complete founders

or early on folks.

And Amazon have taken a lot of leaps.

And that probably at the time, people

would criticize as like, what is this bookstore thing?


And Bezos had a vision.

And he had the ability to just follow it.

Lots of people have visions.

And the average vision is completely idiotic,

and you crash and burn.

The Silicon Valley crash and burn rate is pretty high.

And they don’t necessarily crash and burn

because they were dumb ideas.

But often, it’s just timing and luck.

And you take companies like Tesla,

and really, the original Tesla sort of pre Elon

was kind of doing sort of OK.

But he just drove them.

And because he had a really strong vision,

he would make calls that were always mostly pretty good.

I mean, the Model X was kind of a goofball thing to do.

But he did it boldly anyway.

There’s so many people that just said,

there’s so many people that oppose them on the door.

From the engineering perspective,

those doors are ridiculous.

They are a complete travesty.

But they’re exactly the symbol of what great leadership is,

which is like, you have a vision, and you just go.

If you’re going to do something stupid, make it really stupid.

And go all in.


And to Musk’s credit, he’s a really sharp guy.

So going back in time a little bit to Steve Jobs,

Steve Jobs was a similar sort of character

who had a strong vision and was really, really smart.

And he wasn’t smart about the technology parts of things.

But he was really sharp about the sort of human relationship

between the relationship between humans and objects.

But he was a jerk.

Can we just linger on that a little bit?

People say he’s a jerk.

Is that a feature or a bug?

Well, that’s the question, right?

So you take people like Steve, who was really hard on people.

And so the question is, was he needlessly hard on people?

Or was he just making people reach to meet his vision?

And you could kind of spin it either way.

Well, the results tell a story.

He, through whatever jerk ways he had,

he made people often do the best work of their life.


Yeah, and that was absolutely true.

And I interviewed with him several times.

I did various negotiations with him.

And even though kind of personally I liked him,

I could never work for him.

Why do you think that?

Can you put into words the kind of tension

that you feel would be destructive as opposed

to constructive?

Oh, he’d yell at people.

He’d call them names.

And you don’t like that?


No, I don’t think you need to do that.


And I think there’s pushing people to excel.

And then there’s too far.

And I think he was on the wrong side of the line.

And I’ve never worked for Musk.

I know a number of people who have, many of them have said,

and it shows up in the press a lot,

that Musk is kind of that way.

And one of the things that I sort of loathe

about Silicon Valley these days is

that a lot of the high flying successes

are run by people who are complete jerks.

But it seems like there’s come this sort of mythology out

of Steve Jobs that the reason that he succeeded

was because he was super hard on people.

And in a number of corners, people start going,

oh, if I want to succeed, I need to be a real jerk.

And that, for me, just does not compute.

I know a lot of successful people

who are not jerks, who are perfectly fine people.

And they tend to not be in the public eye.

The general public somehow lifts the jerks up

into the hero status.


Well, because they do things that get them in the press.

And the people who don’t do the kind of things

that spill into the press.

Yeah, I just talked to Chris Ladner for the second time.

He’s a super nice guy.

Just an example of this kind of individual

that’s in the background.

I feel like he’s behind a million technologies.

But he also talked about the jerkiness of some of the folks.


Yeah, and the fact that being a jerk

has become a required style.

But one thing I maybe want to ask on that

is maybe to push back a little bit.

So there’s the jerk side.

But there’s also, if I were to criticize

what I’ve seen in Silicon Valley, which is almost

the resistance to working hard.

So on the jerkiness side, it’s so Posty Jobs and Elon kind

of push people to work really hard to do.

And there’s a question whether it’s

possible to do that nicely.

But one of the things that bothers me,

maybe I’m just Russian and just kind of romanticize

the whole suffering thing.

But I think working hard is essential for accomplishing

anything interesting, like really hard.

And in the parlance of Silicon Valley,

it’s probably too hard.

This idea of that you should work smart, not hard often

to me sounds like you should be lazy.

Because of course you want to be to work smart.

Of course you would be maximally efficient.

But in order to discover the efficient path

like we’re talking about with the short programs, you have to.

Well, the smart, hard thing isn’t an either or.

It’s an and.

It’s an and, yeah.


And the people who say you should work smart, not hard,

they pretty much always fail.


Thank you.


I mean, that’s just a recipe for disaster.

I mean, there are counterexamples,

but they’re more people who benefited from luck.

And you’re saying, yeah, exactly.

Luck and timing, like you said, is often an essential thing.

But you’re saying you can push people

to work hard and do incredible work without being nasty.

Yeah, without being nasty.

I think Google is a good example of the leadership of Google

throughout its history has been a pretty good example of not

being nasty and being kind.


I mean, the twins, Larry and Sergey,

are both pretty nice people.

Sandra Pichai is very nice.


And it’s a culture of people who work really, really hard.

Let me ask maybe a little bit of a tense question.

We’re talking about Emacs.

It seems like you’ve done some incredible work,

so outside of Java, you’ve done some incredible work that

didn’t become as popular as it could have because of licensing

issues and open source issues.

Is it, what are your thoughts about that entire mess?

Like what’s about open source now in retrospect looking back?

About licensing, about open sourcing,

do you think open source is a good thing, a bad thing?

Do you have regrets?

Do you have wisdom that you’ve learned

from that whole experience?

So in general, I’m a big fan of open source.

The way that it can be used to build communities and promote

the development of things and promote collaboration and all

of that is really pretty grand.

When open source turns into a religion that says all things

must be open source, I get kind of weird about that

because it’s sort of like saying some versions of that

end up saying that all software engineers

must take a vow of poverty, right, as though.

It’s unethical to have money.


To build a company, right.

And there’s a slice of me that actually kind of buys into that

because people who make billions of dollars off of a patent,

and the patent came from literally a stroke

of lightning that hits you as you lie half awake in bed.

Yeah, that’s lucky.

Good for you.

The way that that sometimes sort of explodes

into something that looks to me a lot like exploitation,

you see a lot of that in the drug industry.

You know, when you’ve got medications that cost you

like $100 a day, and it’s like, no.

Yeah, so the interesting thing about the sort of open source,

what bothers me is when something is not open source,

and because of that, it’s a worse product.


So like, I mean, if I look at your just implementation

of Emacs, like that could have been the dominant implementation.

Like I use Emacs.

That’s my main ID.

I apologize to the world, but I still love it.

And I could have been using your implementation of Emacs.

And why aren’t I?

So are you using the GNU Emacs?

I guess the default on Linux is that GNU?


And that, through a strange passage,

started out as the one that I wrote.


So it still has a, yeah.

Well, and part of that was because in the last couple

of years of grad school, it became really clear

to me that I was either going to be Mr. Emacs forever

or I was going to graduate.

Got it.

I couldn’t actually do both.

Was that a hard decision?

That’s so interesting to think about you as a,

like it’s a different trajectory that could have happened.


That’s fascinating.

And maybe I could be fabulously wealthy today

if I had become Mr. Emacs, and Emacs

had mushroomed into a series of text processing applications

and all kinds of stuff.

And I would have, you know.

But I have a long history of financially suboptimal

decisions because I didn’t want that life, right?

And I went to grad school because I wanted to graduate.

And being Mr. Emacs for a while was kind of fun,

and then it kind of became not fun.

And when it was not fun, there was

no way I could pay my rent, right?

And I was like, OK, do I carry on as a grad student?

I had a research assistantship, and I

was sort of living off of that.

And I was trying to do my, you know,

I was doing all my RA work, all my RA,

you know, being grad student work

and being Mr. Emacs all at the same time.

And I decided to pick one.

And one of the things that I did at the time

was I went around all the people I knew on the ARPANET who

might be able to take over looking after Emacs.

And pretty much everybody said, eh, I got a day job.

So I actually found two folks and a couple

of folks in a garage in New Jersey, complete with a dog,

who were willing to take it over.

But they were going to have to charge money.

But my deal with them was that they would only,

that they would make it free for universities and schools

and stuff.

And they said sure.

And you know, that upset some people.

So you have some, now I don’t know the full history of this,

but I think it’s kind of interesting.

You have some tension with Mr. Richard Stallman over the,

and he kind of represents this kind of,

like you mentioned, free software,

sort of a dogmatic focus on, yeah.

All information must be free.

Must be free.

So what, is there an interesting way

to paint a picture of the disagreement

you have with Richard through the years?

My basic opposition is that when you say information

must be free, to a really extreme form that

turns into all people whose job is

the production of everything from movies to software.

They must all take a vow of poverty

because information must be free.

And that doesn’t work for me.

And I don’t want to be wildly rich.

I am not wildly rich.

I do OK.

But I do actually, I can feed my children.

Yeah, I totally agree with you.

It does just make me sad that sometimes

the closing of the source, for some reason

that people that, like a bureaucracy begins to build,

and sometimes it doesn’t, it hurts the product.

Oh, absolutely.


It’s always sad.

And there is a balance in there.

There’s a balance.

And it’s not hard over rapacious capitalism.

And it’s not hard over in the other direction.

And a lot of the open source movement,

they have been managing to find the path

to actually making money.

So doing things like service and support

works for a lot of people.

And there are some ways where it’s kind of, some of them

are a little perverse.

So as a part of things like this Sarbanes–Oxley Act

and various people’s interpretations

of all kinds of accounting principles.

And this is kind of a worldwide thing.

But if you’ve got a corporation that

is depending on some piece of software,

often various accounting and reporting standards

say if you don’t have a support contract on this thing

that your business is depending on, then that’s bad.

So if you’ve got a database, you need to pay for support.

But there’s a difference between the sort of support contracts

that the average open source database producer charges

and what somebody who is truly rapacious like Oracle charges.

Yeah, so it’s a balance, like you said.

It is absolutely a balance.

And there are a lot of different ways

to make the math work out for everybody.

And the very unbalanced sort of like the winner

takes all thing that happens in so much of modern commerce,

that just doesn’t work for me either.

I know you’ve talked about this in quite a few places,

but you have created one of the most popular programming

languages in the world.

This is a programming language that I first

learned about object oriented programming with.

I think it’s a programming language

that a lot of people use in a lot of different places

and millions of devices today, Java.

So the absurd question, but can you

tell the origin story of Java?

So a long time ago at Sun in about 1990,

there was a group of us who were kind of worried

that there was stuff going on in the universe of computing

that the computing industry was missing out on.

And so a few of us started this project

at Sun that really got going.

I mean, we started talking about it in 1990,

and it really got going in 91.

And it was all about what was happening

in terms of computing hardware processors

and networking and all of that that was outside

of the computer industry.

And that was everything from the sort

of early glimmers of cell phones that were happening then

to you look at elevators and locomotives

and process control systems in factories

and all kinds of audio equipment and video equipment.

They all had processors in them, and they were all

doing stuff with them.

And it sort of felt like there was something going on there

that we needed to understand.


So C and C++ was in the air already.

Oh, no, C and C++ absolutely owned the universe

at that time.

Everything was written in C and C++.

So where was the hunch that there

was a need for a revolution?

Well, so the need for a revolution

was not about a language.

It was just as simple and vague as there

are things happening out there.

We need to understand them.

And so a few of us went on several somewhat epic road


Literal road trips?

Literal road trips.

It’s like get on an airplane, go to Japan,

visit Toshiba and Sharp and Mitsubishi and Sony

and all of these folks.

And because we worked for Sun, we

had folks who were willing to give us introductions.

We visited Samsung and a bunch of Korean companies.

And we went all over Europe.

We went to places like Philips and Siemens and Thomson.

And what did you see there?

For me, one of the things that sort of leapt out

was that they were doing all the usual computer things

that people had been doing like 20 years before.

The thing that really leapt out to me

was that they were sort of reinventing

computer networking.

And they were making all the mistakes

that people in the computer industry had made.

And since I had been doing a lot of work in the networking

area, we’d go and visit Company X.

They’d describe this networking thing that they were doing.

And just without any thought, I could tell them

like the 25 things that were going

to be complete disasters with that thing

that they were doing.

And I don’t know whether that had any impact on any of them.

But that particular story of repeating the disasters

of the computer science industry was there.

And one of the things we thought was, well,

maybe we could do something useful here with bringing them

forward somewhat.

But also, at the same time, we learned a bunch of things

from these mostly consumer electronics companies.

And high on the list was that they

viewed their relationship with the customer as sacred.

They were never, ever willing to make tradeoffs

between for safety.

So one of the things that had always

made me nervous in the computer industry

was that people were willing to make tradeoffs in reliability

to get performance.

They want faster, faster.

It breaks a little more often because it’s fast.

Maybe you run it a little hotter than you should.

Or the one that always blew my mind

was the way that the folks at Cray Supercomputers

got their division to be really fast

was that they did Newton Raphson approximations.

And so the bottom several bits of A over B

were essentially random numbers.

What could possibly go wrong?

What could go wrong?

And just figuring out how to nail the bottom bit,

how to make sure that if you put a piece of toast in a toaster,

it’s not going to kill the customer.

It’s not going to burst into flames and burn the house down.

So I guess those are the principles that were inspiring.

But how did, from the days of Java’s called oak,

because of a tree outside the window story

that a lot of people know, how did it

become this incredible, powerful language?

Well, so it was a bunch of things.

So after all that, the way that we

decided that we could understand things better

was by building a demo, building a prototype of something.

So because it was easy and fun, we

decided to build a control system for some home

electronics, TV, VCR, that kind of stuff.

And as we were building it, we discovered

that there were some things about standard practice

in C programming that were really getting in the way.

And it wasn’t exactly because we were writing all this C code

and C++ code that we couldn’t write it to do the right thing.

But one of the things that was weird in the group

was that we had a guy whose top level job was

he was a business guy.

He was an MBA kind of person, think about business plans

and all of that.

And there were a bunch of things that were kind of,

and we would talk about things that were going wrong

and things that were going wrong,

things that were going right.

And as we thought about things like the requirements

for security and safety, some low level details

and see like naked pointers.


And so back in the early 90s, it was well understood

that the number one source of security vulnerabilities.

Was pointers.

Was just pointers, was just bugs.

And it was like 50%, 60%, 70% of all security vulnerabilities

were bugs.

And the vast majority of them were like buffer overflows.

So you’re like, we have to fix this.

We have to make sure that this cannot happen.

And that was kind of the original thing for me

was this cannot continue.

And one of the things I find really entertaining this year

was, I forget which Rag published it,

but there was this article that came out

that was sort of the result of an examination

of all the security vulnerabilities in Chrome.

And Chrome is like a giant piece of C++ code.

And 60% or 70% of all the security vulnerabilities

were stupid pointer tricks.

And I thought, it’s 30 years later and we’re still there.

Still there.

And we’re still there.

And that’s one of those slap your forehead

and just want to cry moments.

Would you attribute, or is that too much of a simplification,

but would you attribute the creation of Java

to C pointers?

Obvious problem.

Well, I mean, that was one of the trigger points.

Concurrency you’ve mentioned.

Concurrency was a big deal.

Because when you’re interacting with people,

the last thing you ever want to see

is the thing like waiting and issues

about the software development process.

When faults happen, can you recover from them?

What can you do to make it easier

to create and eliminate complex data structures?

What can you do to fix one of the most common C problems,

which is storage leaks?

And it’s evil twin, the freed but still being used

piece of memory.

You free something and then you keep using it.

Oh, yeah.

So when I was originally thinking about that,

I was thinking about it in terms of safety and security issues.

And one of the things I came to understand

was that it wasn’t just about safety and security,

but it was about developer velocity.

So and I got really religious about this

because at that point, I had spent an ungodly amount

of my life hunting down mystery pointer bugs.

And two thirds of my time as a software developer

was because the mystery pointer bugs tend

to be the hardest to find because they tend

to be very, very statistical.

The ones that hurt, they’re like a one in a million chance.

But nevertheless, create an infinite amount of suffering.


Because when you’re doing a billion operations a second,

one in a million chance means it’s going to happen.

And so I got really religious about this thing,

about making it so that if something fails,

it fails immediately and visibly.

And one of the things that was a real attraction of Java

to lots of development shops was that we get our code up

and running twice as fast.

You mean like the entirety of the development process,

debugging, all that kind of stuff?

Yeah, so if you measure time from you first touch fingers

to keyboard until you get your first demo out,

not much different.

But if you look from fingers touching keyboard

to solid piece of software that you could release

in production, it would be way faster.

And I think what people don’t often realize is, yeah,

there’s things that really slow you down,

like the hard to catch bugs probably

is the thing that really slows down the entire time.

It really slows things down.

But also, one of the things that you get out

of object oriented programming is a strict methodology

about what are the interfaces between things

and being really clear about how parts relate to each other.

And what that helps with is so many times

what people do is they kind of like sneak around the side.

So if you’ve built something and people are using it

and you say, well, OK, I built this thing.

You use it this way.

And then you change it in such a way

that it still does what you said it does.

It just does it a little bit different.

Then you find out that somebody out there

was sneaking around the side.

They sort of tunneled in a back door.

And this person, their code broke.

And because they were sneaking through a side door.

And normally, the attitude is, dummy.

But a lot of times, you can’t just slap their hand

and tell them to not do that.

Because it’s some bank’s account reconciliation system

that some developer decided, oh, I’m lazy.

I’ll just sneak through the back door.

Because the language allows it.

I mean, you can’t even mad at them.

And so one of the things I did that, on the one hand,

upset a bunch of people was I made it

so that you really couldn’t go through back doors.

So the whole point of that was to say,

if the interface here isn’t right,

the wrong way to deal with that is to go through a back door.

The right way to deal with it is to walk up

to the developer of this thing and say, fix it.

And so it was kind of like a social engineering thing.

And people ended up discovering that that really

made a difference in terms of.

And a bunch of this stuff, if you’re just screwing around

writing your own class project scale stuff,

a lot of this stuff isn’t quite so important

because you’re both sides of the interface.

But when you’re building larger, more complex pieces of software

that have a lot of people working on them,

and especially when they span organizations,

having clarity about how that stuff gets structured

saves your life.

And especially, there’s so much software

that is fundamentally untestable until you do the real thing.

It’s better to write good code in the beginning

as opposed to writing crappy code

and then trying to fix it and trying to scramble and figure

out, and through testing, figure out where the bugs are.

Yeah, it’s like, which shortcut caused that rocket

to not get where it was needed to go?

So I think one of the most beautiful ideas philosophically

and technically is of a virtual machine, a Java virtual machine.

Again, I apologize to romanticize things,

but how did the idea of the JVM come to be?

How to you radical of an idea it is?

Because it seems to me to be just a really interesting idea

in the history of programming.

And what is it?

So the Java virtual machine, you can think of it

in different ways because it was carefully designed

to have different ways of viewing it.

So one view of it that most people don’t really realize

is there is that you can view it as sort

of an encoding of the abstract syntax tree

in reverse Polish notation.

I don’t know if that makes any sense at all.

I could explain it, and that would blow all of our time.

But the other way to think of it and the way

that it ends up being explained is

that it’s like the instruction set of an abstract machine

that’s designed such that you can translate

that abstract machine to a physical machine.

And the reason that that’s important,

so if you wind back to the early 90s

when we were talking to all of these companies doing

consumer electronics, and you talk to the purchasing people,

there were interesting conversations with purchasing.

So if you look at how these devices come together,

they’re sheet metal and gears and circuit boards

and capacitors and resistors and stuff.

And everything you buy has multiple sources.

So you can buy a capacitor from here.

You can buy a capacitor from there.

And you’ve got kind of a market so that you can actually

get a decent price for a capacitor.

But CPUs, and particularly in the early 90s,

CPUs were all different and all proprietary.

So if you use the chip from Intel,

you had to be an Intel customer till the end of time.

Because if you wrote a bunch of software,

when you wrote software using whatever technique you wanted,

and C was particularly bad about this

because there was a lot of properties

of the underlying machine that came through.

So you were stuck.

So the code you wrote, you were stuck

to that particular machine.

You were stuck to that particular machine,

which meant that they couldn’t decide,

you know, Intel is screwing us.

I’ll start buying chips from Bob’s Better Chips.

This drove the purchasing people absolutely insane

that they were welded into this decision.

And they would have to make this decision

before the first line of software was written.

That’s funny that you’re talking about the purchasing people.

So there’s one perspective, right?

There’s a lot of other perspectives

that all probably hated this idea.


But from a technical aspect,

just like the creation of an abstraction layer

that’s agnostic to the underlying machine

from the perspective of the developer,

I mean, that’s brilliant.


Well, and so that’s like across the spectrum

of providers of chips.

But then there’s also the time thing

because, you know, as you went from one generation

to the next generation to the next generation,

they were all different.

And you would often have to rewrite your software.

Oh, you mean generations of machines of different kinds?


So like one of the things that sucked about a year out

of my life was when Sun went from the Motorola 68010

processor to the 68020 processor.

Then they had a number of differences.

And one of them hit us really hard.

And I ended up being the point guy

on the worst case of where the new instruction cache

architecture hurt us.

Well, OK, so I mean, so one of this idea, I mean, OK.

So yeah, you articulate a really clear fundamental problem

in all of computing.

But where do you get the guts to think

we can actually solve this?

You know, in our conversations with all of these vendors,

these problems started to show up.

And I kind of had this epiphany because it reminded me

of a summer job that I had had in grad school.

So back in grad school, my thesis advisor,

well, I had two thesis advisors for bizarre reasons.

One of them was a guy named Raj Reddy.

The other one was Bob Sproul.

And Raj, I love Raj.

I really love both of them.

So the department had bought a bunch of early workstations

from a company called Three Rivers Computer Company.

And Three Rivers Computer Company

was a bunch of electrical engineers

who wanted to do as little software as possible.

So they knew that they’d need to have compilers and an OS

and stuff like that.

And they didn’t want to do any of that.

And they wanted to do that for as close to zero money

as possible.

So what they did was they built a machine whose instruction set

was literally the byte code for UCSD Pascal, the P code.

And so we had a bunch of software

that was written for this machine.

And for various reasons, the company

wasn’t doing terrifically well.

We had all this software on these machines.

And we wanted it to run on other machines, principally

the VAX.

And so Raj asked me if I could come up

with a way to port all of this software from the PERC machines

to VAXs.

And I think what he had in mind was something

that would translate from Pascal to C or Pascal to, actually,

at those times, pretty much it was

you could translate to C or C. And if you

didn’t like translate to C, you could translate to C.

There was, it’s like the Henry Ford, any color you want,

just as long as it’s black.

And I went, that’s really hard.

That’s a.

And I noticed that, and I was looking at stuff.

And I went, oh, I bet I could rewrite the P code

into VAX assembly code.

And then I started to realize that there

were some properties of P code that

made that really easy, some properties that

made it really hard.

So I ended up writing this thing that

translated from P code on the Three Rivers PERCs

into assembly code on the VAX.

And I actually got higher quality code than the C compiler.

And so everything just got really fast.

It was really easy.

It was like, wow, I thought that was a sleazy hack

because I was lazy.

And in actual fact, it worked really well.

And I tried to convince people that that was maybe

a good thesis topic.

And nobody was, it was like, nah.


That’s, I mean, it’s kind of a brilliant idea, right?

Or maybe you didn’t have the, you

weren’t able to articulate the big picture of it.


And I think that was a key part.

But so then clock comes forward a few years.

And it’s like, we’ve got to be able to,

if they want to be able to switch

from this weird microprocessor to that weird and totally

different microprocessor, how do you do that?

And I kind of went, oh, maybe by doing something kind of

in the space of Pascal P code, I could do multiple translations

to multiple translators.

And I spent some time thinking about that

and thinking about what worked and what didn’t work

when I did the P code to Vax translator.

And I talked to some of the folks

who were involved in Smalltalk because Smalltalk also

did a bytecode.

And then I kind of went, yeah, I want to do that.

Because that actually, and it had the other advantage

that you could either interpret it or compile it.

And interpreters are usually easier to do,

but not as fast as a compiler.

So I figured, good, I can be lazy again.

Sometimes I think that most of my good ideas

are driven by laziness.

And often I find that some of people’s stupidest ideas

are because they’re insufficiently lazy.

They just want to build something really complicated.

And it’s like, it doesn’t need to be that complicated.

Yeah, and so that’s how that came out.

But that also turned into almost a religious position

on my part, which got me in several other fights.

So one of the things that was a real difference

was the way that arithmetic worked.

And once upon a time, it wasn’t always just

two’s complement arithmetic.

There were some machines that had one’s complement

arithmetic, which was like almost anything built by CDC.

And occasionally, there were machines

that were decimal arithmetic.

And I was like, this is crazy.

Pretty much two’s complement integer arithmetic has one.

So just do that.

One of the other places where there was a lot of variability

was in the way that floating point behaved.

And that was causing people throughout the software

industry much pain because you couldn’t

do a numerical computing library that

would work on CDC and then have it work on an IBM machine

and work on a DEC machine.

And as a part of that whole struggle,

there had been this big body of work on floating point


And this thing emerged that came to be called IEEE 754,

which is the floating point standard that pretty much

has taken over the entire universe.

And at the time I was doing Java,

it had pretty much completed taking over the universe.

There were still a few pockets of holdouts,

but I was like, it’s important to be

able to say what two plus two means.

And so I went that.

And one of the ways that I got into fights with people

was that there were a few machines that did not

implement IEEE 754 correctly.

Well, of course, that’s all short term kind of fights.

I think in the long term, I think this vision is one out.

Yeah, and I think it’s worked out over time.

I mean, the biggest fights were with Intel

because they had done some strange things with rounding.

They’d done some strange things with their transcendental

functions, which turned into a mushroom cloud of weirdness.

And in the name of optimization, but from the perspective

of the developer, that’s not good.

Well, their issues with transcendental functions

were just stupid.

OK, so that’s not even a trade off.

That’s just absolutely.

Yeah, they were doing range reduction for sine and cosine

using a slightly wrong value for pi.

Got it.

We’ve got 10 minutes.

So in the interest of time, two questions.

So one about Android and one about life.

So one, I mean, we could talk for many more hours.

I hope eventually we might talk again.

But I got to ask you about Android and the use of Java

there because it’s one of the many places where Java just

has a huge impact on this world.

Just on your opinion, is there things

that make you happy about the way Java

is used in the Android world?

And are there things that you wish were different?

I don’t know how to do a short answer to that.

But I have to do a short answer to that.

So I’m happy that they did it.

Java had been running on cell phones

at that time for quite a few years.

And it worked really, really well.

There were things about how they did it.

And in particular, various ways that they kind of violated

all kinds of contracts.

The guy who led it, Andy Rubin, he crossed a lot of lines.

There’s some lines crossed.

Yeah, lines were crossed that have since mushroomed

into giant court cases.

And they didn’t need to do that.

And in fact, it would have been so much cheaper for them

to not cross lines.

I mean, I suppose they didn’t anticipate

the success of this whole endeavor.

Or do you think at that time it was already clear

that this is going to blow up?

I guess I sort of came to believe

that it didn’t matter what Andy did,

it was going to blow up.

I kind of started to think of him as a manufacturer of bombs.

Yeah, some of the best things in this world

come about through a little bit of explosive.

Well, and some of the worst.

And some of the worst, beautifully put.

And like you said, I mean, does that

make you proud that Java is in millions?

I mean, it could be billions of devices.

Yeah, well, I mean, it was in billions of phones

before Android came along.

And I’m just as proud of the way that the smart card standards

adopted Java.

And everybody involved in that did a really good job.

And that’s billions and billions.

That’s crazy.

The SIM cards, the SIM cards in your pocket.

I’ve been outside of that world for a decade.

So I don’t know how that has evolved.

But it’s just been crazy.

So on that topic, let me ask, again,

there’s a million technical things we could talk about.

But let me ask the absurd, the old philosophical question

about life.

What do you hope when you look back at your life

and the people talk about you, write about you 500 years

from now, what do you hope your legacy is?

People not being afraid to take a leap of faith.

I mean, I’ve got this kind of weird history

of doing weird stuff.

And it worked out pretty damn well.

It worked out.

And I think some of the weirder stuff that I’ve done

has been the coolest.

And some of it crashed and burned.

And I think well over half of the stuff that I’ve done

has crashed and burned, which has occasionally

been really annoying.

But still, you kept doing it.

But yeah.


And even when things crash and burn,

you at least learn something from it.

By way of advice, people, developers, engineers,

scientists, or just people who are young, to look up to you,

what advice would you give them how to approach their life?

Don’t be afraid of risk.

It’s OK to do stupid things once.

Maybe a couple of times you get a pass on the first time

or two that you do something stupid.

The third or fourth time, yeah, not so much.

But also, I don’t know why, but really early on,

I started to think about ethical choices in my life.

And because I’m a big science fiction fan,

I got to thinking about just about every technical decision

I make in terms of, are you building

Blade Runner or Star Trek?

Which one’s better?

Which future would you rather live in?

So what’s the answer to that?

Well, I would sure rather live in the universe of Star Trek.

Star Trek, yeah.

That opens up a whole topic about AI,

but that’s a really interesting idea.

So your favorite AI system would be data from Star Trek.

And my least favorite would easily be Skynet.


Beautifully put.

I don’t think there’s a better way to end it, James.

I can’t say enough how much of an honor

it is to meet you, to talk to you.

Thanks so much for wasting your time with me today.

Not a waste at all.

Thanks, James.

All right, thanks.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with James

Gosling, and thank you to our sponsors, Public Goods,

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And now, let me leave you with some words from James Gosling.

One of the toughest things about life is making choices.

Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.