Subject: Re: Is LISP dying?
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1999/07/15
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp,comp.lang.misc
Message-ID: <>

* Andrew Cooke <>
| I get the impression that Lisp is on the way out.

  something important happens when a previously privileged position in
  society suddenly sees incredibly demand that needs to be filled, using
  enormous quantities of manpower.  that happened to programming computers
  about a decade ago, or maybe two.  first, the people will no longer be
  super dedicated people, and they won't be as skilled or even as smart --
  what was once dedication is replaced by greed and sometimes sheer need as
  the motivation to enter the field.  second, an unskilled labor force will
  want job security more than intellectual challenges (to some the very
  antithesis of job security).  third, managing an unskilled labor force
  means easy access to people who are skilled in whatever is needed right
  now, not an investment in people -- which leads to the conclusion that a
  programmer is only as valuable as his ability to get another job fast.
  fourth, when mass markets develop, pluralism suffers the most -- there is
  no longer a concept of healthy participants: people become concerned with
  the individual "winner", and instead of people being good at whatever
  they are doing and proud of that, they will want to flock around the
  winner to share some of the glory.

  Lisp is not the kind of language that insecure losers would use.  people
  do not want to learn Lisp because they stand a better chance of beating
  another unskilled fool in the job race.  fact is: you don't get a job by
  lying about your Lisp skills.  all of this means that there is very
  little activity at the front gate, where all the journalists and the
  media are.  there are no people struggling like mad to get into the Lisp
  world.  they don't have to.  if you want to learn Lisp, you go learn Lisp
  and talk to nice people who probably have time for you, and you make
  yourself good at it.  then you go do complex stuff that insecure losers
  who lie about their Java skills can't even imagine, and therefore do not
  consider part of the competition.

  neurosurgery is another field that requires an actual investment and lots
  of dedication to get into, is really rewarding to those who get good at
  it, but whose jobs are not advertised in regular newspapers.  there is a
  shortage of neurosurgeons, but very little advertising in the media that
  the patients read.  programming is both similar and different.  whether
  you are a user or a programmer these days is often hard to tell (this has
  good qualities to it, too), but some programming tasks are still reserved
  to highly skilled people who are not afraid to take huge risks.  ignoring
  for a moment the power of the American Medical Association, we still
  wouldn't see a huge amount of books on neurosurgery for dummies in 21
  days or whatever.  it's just plain inappropriate, and it's intentionally
  out of people's reach.  Lisp is somewhat like that.  people can get lots
  of medicines at the drugstore, but they can't be trusted to carve out a
  malignant tumor in their child's brain.  all sorts of users can do lots
  of customization and cool stuff in their "apps", but they really can't be
  trusted to run actual flight control systems, configure the telephone
  network, write software for video-synchronized magnetic-resonance imaging
  for brain surgery, or write automated stock-trading systems.  at some
  point, the risk of letting unskilled people do the task becomes too
  high.  that's when you can't trust more than 1% of the programmers out
  there, and a surprisingly large number of them know and use Lisp and
  tools that are can be trusted.  (consider an ATM that gets one of those
  frequent Windows crashes, or a naval warfare vessel that has to cold-boot
  because a certain display suddenly goes all blue, or any other story in
  comp.risks that would have been hilarious if it had been a joke.)

  another way to look at this is to see that software in today's society
  has a number of diseased elements, to consider that maggots eat only
  diseased or dead tissue, that dead or dying software projects lie around
  all over the place, like a horrible war zone between ignorant users and
  frightened managers, and pretend that you're a maggot.  you wouldn't care
  about the living and the healthy who prosper outside the war zone, you'd
  rush to the war zone to join the feeding frenzy, right?  so, to complete
  the grim picture, software in our society is diseased, the activity you
  read about are all about cleaning up the disasters and surviving the
  equivalent of plagues, and it just takes a tremendous amount of people
  and work to keep the whole system from dying, like the incredibly stupid
  year-2000 problem.

  to take but one simple example: suppose you thought of the new millennium
  when you wrote your application back in 1972 -- not only wouldn't you be
  invited to the party, those who knew you had done it right from the start
  and who probably laughed at you at the time would positively hate you
  now, and they sure as hell wouldn't tell people about you.  and the more
  stupid they are, the more important it would be to pretend that nobody
  was smart enough to see the next millennium coming.

  Lisp is a little too much out of the reach of the masses, and this needs
  fixing, but the professional markets are not into language-of-the-week
  contests and feeping creaturism in whatever won last week.  when your
  application takes longer to create than three versions of the JDK, you
  don't use Java.  the same applies to other long-term stuff.  when you
  write manuals for naval or air force vessels, you don't use MS Word and
  hope Microsoft doesn't come out with yet another incompatible disservice
  pack and/or upgrade, you use CALS and enterprise-wide publishing systems.

  put yet another way, even though aviation has become a commodity and ever
  more people fly around the country for the fun of it (well, maybe not,
  but it's certainly not for the food), you don't see people complaining
  that business class is in the decline.  instead, you notice that there is
  fierce competition in the cheaper tickets, but routes are set up mainly
  to accomodate business travelers, and if you're willing to pay for it,
  all sorts of amenities are available and life in the air is a lot better.

  Lisp is not only object-oriented, it's the business class programming
  language.  (it really is the first-class programming language, but let's
  talk about that when you have enough mileage.)

  now, since you're worried about Lisp "dying", consider this: Lisp is used
  a lot of places where all else has failed.  some people are smart enough
  (or have been burned enough) to use Lisp from the start, but just as you
  can't expect people to pay for insurance until they have a reasonable
  idea about the risks that exist around them, most people have to get
  burned before they understand the value of investing in not failing.
@1999-07-22T00:37:33Z -- pi billion seconds since the turn of the century