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Unix and Beyond: An Interview with Ken Thompson
May 1999 (vol. 32 no. 5)
pp. 58-64

On the occasion of the presentation of the Computer Society's and Hitachi's inaugural Tsutomu Kanai Award for distributed computing, Computer visited recipient Ken Thompson at Lucent's Bell Labs. Thompson, best known as the co-creator of the Unix operating system, also created the Plan 9 and Inferno distributed operating systems. He received a 1998 US National Medal of Technology, along with Dennis Ritchie, for their role in developing the Unix system and C. In reviewing his work, Thompson sees himself as being a bottom-up thinker, saying, "If you give me the right kind of Tinker Toys, I can imagine the building." He also admits, " I can't--from the building-- imagine the Tinker Toys. When I see a top-down description of a system or language that has infinite libraries described by layers and layers, all I just see is a morass." Although not precluding a paradigm shift, Thompson views computer science as reaching an apex at which it is becoming extremely specialized.

Citation:
Daniel Cooke, Joseph Urban, Scott Hamilton, "Unix and Beyond: An Interview with Ken Thompson," Computer, vol. 32, no. 5, pp. 58-64, May 1999, doi:10.1109/MC.1999.762801
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