I was reading Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity Is Near and couldn’t keep wondering what was missing. Then I hit this passage where Kurzweil quotes Edger W. Dijkstra.
“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”
Why this quote, in this context?
And Dijkstra’s statement: when and where did he say this?
So I did a bit of research on the internet, especially in the Dijkstra archive. I could not find the source of this phrase.
Other places on the internet https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edsger_W._Dijkstra find the attribution disputed (and yes you can easily dispute this and other internet sources).
By the way Dijkstra could very well have said it. Even though he was a world famous computer scientist, he seems to only have owned a computer himself to read email and surf the web. So at least for him, this statement holds true.
Back to Singularity. I find the choice and place of this quote an example of the shortcomings of this book: the mixing of scientific facts with with personal and vaguely backed predictions. Some predictions are no more than Kurzweil’s personal believes. Also the context in which this quote is placed is odd: Kurzweil in this chapter talks about exponential growth, about Moore’s Law, curve of a paradigm and take over of new paradigm. It is unclear where this Dijkstra quote fits in this story.
This made me think about the differences between Dijkstra and Kurzweil. Dijkstra: unconventional theoretical scientist. Kurzweil: unconventional futuristic engineer. You would expect Dijkstra to be a dry personality and Kurzweil more flamboyant. But surprisingly the big difference and the major shortcoming in Kurzweil’s work is this one thing that Dijkstra sprinkles through all of his work: humour.