Bill Joy and “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us”

By Deane Barker on September 9, 2003

Bill Joy to leave Sun: It’s tough to overstate the importance of this. The man invented vi, for goodness sakes.

After more than 20 years at Sun Microsystems Inc., cofounder and Chief Scientist Bill Joy is leaving the company, Sun announced Tuesday.

Joy, once called the “Edison of the Internet” by Fortune Magazine, is the leading designer of some of Sun’s key technologies, including Solaris software, Sparc microprocessors and Java technology. He was the designer of the Berkeley version of the Unix operating system, now known as BSD, which became a foundation of the Internet. He cofounded Sun in 1982.

Years ago, I read a stunning essay by Joy in Wired magazine called “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us”. It’s an amazing look at where humanity is going in the face of all our technological advances, and how (if?) humans fit into the picture.

First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.

Needless to say, this isn’t light reading. But it is thought-provoking, and it resulted in a list-serv that was active for sometime with people philosophizing about the future.

He really sparked a huge discussion with that one piece of writing — I remember a letter to the editor in the next issue from some lady who said she burst into tears after she read it. Print it, then take two hours to really pour over it. Quite worthwhile.



  1. Thanks, Deane; didn’t get a thing done all evening other than reading this story.

    Fascinating stuff, though.

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