Lets Blow Up The Universe

The night sky over the planet Krikkit is the least interesting sight in the Universe. But the people of Krikkit are planning to do something about it - destroy the rest of the Universe. -- from the back cover of LifeTheUniverseAndEverything

Occasionally, it is proposed that portions of the computer science/software engineering infrastructure erected over the past 50-odd years, are so fundamentally flawed (and yet so firmly entrenched) that radical overhaul--akin to "blowing up the Universe"--is needed to solve the (alleged) problems.

Occasionally (but less frequently), such proposals come from respectable and reputable computer scientists, who aren't merely trying to sell a product or grind a favorite axe.

And occasionally (and still less frequently), they're right--or at least have a legitimate point. (Though often there may be an evolutionary path that is less painful than the revolutionary path they propose, yet accomplishes the same long-term good, or at least a useful subset).

A good LetsBlowUpTheUniverse rant^H^H^H^Hproposal will generally have the following elements:

In many cases, the argument contains the following as well:

Famous (but serious) examples, both reasonable and not. (Limit ourselves to such examples from respected and well-known practitioners; an anonymous posting to comp.lang.lisp saying "let's all use lisp" doesn't count.)

I doubt there is a significant EverythingIsa that nobody has thought of yet. However, there are many that are under-explored.
The first LetsBlowUpTheUniverse project that succeeds will make this page look rather silly. It's only a matter of time. -- DavidSarahHopwood

Many LetsBlowUpTheUniverse projects have succeeded--just not at blowing up the universe. Instead, the good ideas contained therein are plucked out and integrated into the mainstream of computer science; evolution and not revolution occurs. Often times the advocate of LBUTU will complain bitterly about this--but that's what occurs.

JohnBackus' lecture has been widely influential. On one hand, industrial users still use imperative languages FTMP, but many functional ideas have crept in--see MainstreamInfluenceOfFunctionalLanguages. Xanadu probably had quite a bit of influence on the design of the web; even though TedNelson remains bitter that only a subset of his vision was ever widely adopted. Even though the DynaBook was never realized in it's original form; much of the research done nowadays permeates computing.

[The main goal of the DynaBook, allowing end users to think better and communicate with each other better by building and sending each other simulations, has only been slightly realized a couple of times. HyperCard, SpreadSheets and LambdaMoo come to mind. But the idea of PersonalDynamicMedia has yet to be realized in any kind of large scale or pervasive manner. Many of the support technologies created for the DynaBook have become popular (like overlapping windows and ObjectOrientedProgramming) but the core idea still isn't really "out there".]

Usually, the difficulty in evolutionary progress (the justification for the radical approach of LBUTU) is overstated. Sometimes this is because of the LBUTU advocate's distaste for the status quo, and his desire to be rid of it--in other cases, the advocate fancies himself as a peer to the likes of AlanTuring; as someone who ought to be standing at the pinnacle of computer science.

...Getting rid of Gotos blew up the universe--of unstructured programming.

See also: DisciplineEnvy FearOfChange YagniAndCostOfChange FearUncertaintyAndDoubt RefactoringGovernment RewriteCodeFromScratch BoilTheOcean BurnTheDiskpacks

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