21 November 2019

Nobody recruited me”: Barbara Liskov on design, AI, and being a woman in computer science

Susan D’Agostino, on Quanta Magazine, conducted a great interview of Barbara Liskov — Turing Award winner, former head of computer science at MIT, and the genius mind behind the coding language that made Java, C++ and C# possible. Among all her great answers, I especially loved her take on design:

Knowing methodology doesn’t mean you’re good at designing. Some people can design, and some people can’t. I never felt that I could teach my students how to design. I could show them design, explain design, talk about data abstraction, and tell them what’s good and bad. With too many bells and whistles, it gets complicated. With too few, there are inefficiencies. Designing something just powerful enough is an art.

Then later, she explains her worries about the Internet:

More than technology is needed to solve our current problems. We need laws addressing the ways people misbehave. We need to work out this question of privacy versus security. Some of it’s technical. For example, Facebook has an algorithm for how it spreads information. They could spread information more slowly or recognise what information shouldn’t be moving. Societies always have trouble dealing with something new. We can hope we mature. But if I had a magic wand, I’d make all that go away.

Liskov then details what is like for her to be a woman in computer science, and I cannot recommend enough for you to read the full interview.


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