by I Sutherland · 1996 · Cited by 11 — eage, and draw courage from identifying with my ancestors. Technology and Courage. Ivan Sutherland. Sun Microsystems Laboratories. 2550 Garcia Avenue.
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_____________________________________________________________________________© Copyright 1996 Sun Microsystems, Inc. Perspectives, a new and parallel series to the Sun Microsystems Laboratories Technical Report Series,is published by Sun Microsystems Laboratories, a division of Sun Microsystems, Inc. Printed in U.S.A.Unlimited copying without fee is permitted provided that the copies are not made nor distributed for direct commercial advantage, and credit to thesource is given. Otherwise, no part of this work covered by copyright hereon may be reproduced in any form or by any means graphic, electronic,or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or storage in an information retrieval system, without the prior written permission of thecopyright owner. TRADEMARKSSun, Sun Microsystems, and the Sun logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sun Microsystems, Inc. UNIX is a registered trademark in theUnited States and other countries, exclusively licensed through X/Open Company, Ltd. All SPARC trademarks, including the SCD Co mpliantLogo, are trademarks or registered trademarks of SPARC International, Inc. SPARCstation, SPARCserver, SPARCengine, SPARCworks, andSPARCompiler are licensed exclusively to Sun Microsystems, Inc. All other product names mentioned herein are the trademarks of their respec-tive owners.For information regarding the SunLabs Perspectives Series, contact Jeanie Treichel, Editor-in-Chief
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3EditorÕs NotesAbout the seriesÑThe Perspectives series is a collection of essays written by individualsfrom Sun Microsystems Laboratories. These essays express ideas and opinions held by the authors on subjects of general rather than technical interest. Sun Microsystems Laboratories pub- lishes these essays as a courtesy to the authors to share their views with interested friends and col- leagues. The opinions and views expressed herein are solely those of the authors, and do not in any way represent those of Sun Microsystems Laboratories, nor Sun Microsystems, Inc.~~~~~~~~About the authorÑDr. Ivan E. Sutherland recently won the prestigious Price Waterhouse Information Technology Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as an honored place in the SmithsonianÕs Permanent Collection of Information Technology (IT) Innovation. He is widely known for his pioneering contributions in the Þeld of computer graphics. His 1963 MIT Ph.D. thesis, Sketchpad, Þrst demonstrated the potential of computer graphics. In his work on a head-mounted three-dimensional display at Harvard in the midÕ60s, Ivan anticipated todayÕs virtual reality by 25 years. He is co-founder of Evans and Sutherland, which produces the most advanced computer image generators now in use. As head of the Computer Science Department at Caltech, he helped make integrated circuit design an acceptable Þeld of academic study. Dr. Sutherland is a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences. He received the ACM Turing Award in 1988 and holds several honorary degrees. In this paper, his spirit and joy are revealed: I, for one, am and will always remain a practicing technologist.When denied my minimum daily adult dose of technology, I get grouchy. I believe that technology is fun, especially when computers are involved, a sort of grand game or puzzle with ever so neat parts to Þt together. I have turned down several lucrative admin- istrative jobs because they would deny me that fun. If the technology you do isnÕt fun for you, you may wish to seek other employment. Without the fun, none of us would go on.Dr. Sutherland is presently Vice President and Fellow of Sun Microsystems, Inc. ÑEd.
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4Notes from the AuthorThis paper is essentially the text of a lecture I gave at Carnegie Mellon Universityin 1982. It was the first, and nearly the only, non-technical lecture I have ever given. At the time, I was deeply concerned that the ideas I expressed would be of little interest or value.This paper was eventually published in the Carnegie Mellon University ComputerScience 25th Anniversary Commemorative . Continuing demand for informal copies suggests that people, especially young people, may garner value from it. Perhaps experience has something to offer youth. As I read this paper again for the first time in many years, it brought me face to face with my own latest failures of courage. Sadly, I have no more courage now than I had then, no better insight into failures of courage, and no new ways to bol- ster courage. I was able to add only citations to subsequently published work.Sun Microsystems Laboratories reprints this paper with permission of the ACMpress as a courtesy to those who may wish a copy. The ideas are my own and rep- resent no official position of Sun Microsystems, Inc. or Carnegie Mellon Univer- sity. The text is also available on the World Wide Web. You may reproduce this document for any not-for-profit purpose. Reproduction for profit or where a royalty is paid to anyone requires prior permission from the author. Ivan SutherlandMountain View, CA December 1995
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51Introduction Sutherland is a Scottish name. My ancestors came from the northernmost county in Scotland, called Sutherlandshire, a land where cows grow long hair against the cold, trees mostly refuse to grow at all, and the farmers cut peat to heat their homes. I enjoyed the sunrise at 3 AM there one summer morning, it having set about 11 PM the previous evening. Because the bonus of summer sunshine is merely borrowed from winter, winter must be bleak indeed. A British friend who was with me in Sutherlandshire remarked that Sutherlands there are Òtwo for a pennyÓ; I had thought of them Òa dime a dozen,Ó but considering the pound to dol- lar exchange rate, itÕs about the same value. I often wear a tie bearing my family colors, the Sutherland tartan. Depending upon the listener, I claim to wear it either a) because I own only one tie, which is not true, or b) as a default to avoid having to choose a tie, which is true but unimpor- tant, or c) in honor of my late father who also generally wore such a tie, which is also true and is my real reason: like my father before me, I am proud of my lin- eage, and draw courage from identifying with my ancestors.Technology and CourageIvan SutherlandSun Microsystems Laboratories2550 Garcia AvenueMountain View, California 94043
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6Nearly all of the talks I have ever given were technical. Because I am a professor at heart, you can wind me up and I will easily go on for exactly 50 minutes on any of my several technical interests. I go on easily because I know my subjects well, I know what is interesting about them, I know that I can talk clearly about them, and I have had favorable responses from previous audiences.Today, however, I want to do something very much harder for me. I want to depart from my familiar technical fields to address a different subject: courage. I direct my remarks to young people who may soon discover for the first time that to do technology requires courage, and to my older colleagues who, like me, have lan- guishing technical projects and reports that seem less important than today’s urgent tasks. I am going to talk about the courage required to do creative technical work, and because I have mainly my own experience to draw on, this will be an intensely personal talk, revealing of my own failures of courage. I ask you to apply to your- selves any lessons you may learn.1.1What is Courage? Many activities require courage, a human trait we find admirable. We admire the courage required to explore a wilderness and so great explorers become famous: Lewis and Clark, Admiral Byrd, Amelia Earhart, and John Glenn, for example. We also admire political courage, as exhibited by Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill, or more recently by Mikhail Gorbachev. Taking Þnancial risks in busi- ness also requires courage, as exhibited by Lee Iacocca, although less so when someone else’s money is at risk. Changing to a new job or a new school requires personal courage, especially so when making a home in a new city. What is courage? Courage is what it takes to overcome fear. Fear is an emotion appropriate to perceived risk. Thus, to exhibit courage one must both perceive a risk and proceed in spite of it. Suppose a child has fallen through the ice on a lake and could be saved if reached. A person who walks out on the ice believing it to be very thick requires no courage because he perceives no risk even though others may think him courageous. A person who correctly perceives that the ice is thin and stays off it likewise exhibits no courage; rather we call his action prudent or cowardly, depending on whether or not the ice is, in fact, too thin for safety. Cour- age is required only of a person who proceeds to rescue the child in full knowledge that the ice is thin.
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82External Encouragement Because individuals are often unable to get things done without encouragement,society has devised many forms of encouragement. There are rewards of money, fame, acclaim, recognition, status, or love. Prizes, statues, certiÞcates, medals, and honorary titles are some of the adult equivalents of the gold stars we got as chil- dren for good work. Large ofÞces, with carpets, maybe with windows, and with or without a flag or fancy plants in them are also symbols of status. There are also punishments for inaction. Often we formalize such rewards and punishments in the form of written or unwritten contracts.Contracts often contain deadlines. Deadlines help inspire us to extra effort because the task must be done on time. In some research, deadlines are absolute: a space mission to study Halley’s Comet must be launched on time, but softer, self- imposed deadlines are also useful for raising the urgency of tasks. An architect friend of mine taught me the word Òcharette,Ó meaning the feverish activity imme- diately preceding a deadline. The term comes from the French name for the horse- drawn carts in Paris that carried architectural students with their architectural mod- els from their workshops to their examinations, still feverishly finishing the mod- els Òen charette.Ó In the vernacular English we can speak of Òhaving a charette,Ó and, of course, there is a verb form: Òcharetting it up.Ó Without a deadline there can be no charette. A designer friend of mine is completely unable to function without a deadline to work against. Several times I have asked him to do simple tasks for me, designing a letterhead, for example, Òwhen he had time.Ó Until I Þg- ured out that he works only against a deadline, I got no result at all. Now I ask him for something by a particular date and he usually delivers on time. Evidently, he can work only Òen charette.ÓThe fellowship of people in groups offers encouragement. Groups of people will even do things that single individuals wouldn’t do; lynchings and riots are an extreme form of this. Group activities seem easier. Boards and committees share not only knowledge, but also responsibility, and thus increase their participants’ willingness to undertake risk. Moreover, the fellowship of such groups makes working more fun. Is this because man is a social animal, or is this why we call man a social animal?I always thought that working with a partner or with a few colleagues was betterthan working alone, in part because I can rarely think about difÞcult subjects with-
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9out verbalizing them to someone else. I like to collaborate with someone to whom I can express my ideas, even poorly formed ones, and from whom I can draw a fresh look at them. The names of my companies bear witness to my need to col- laborate: the Evans and Sutherland Computer Company and Sutherland, Sproull, and Associates, Inc. I owe much to my partners in these enterprises.2.1Encouragement in Academia One of the beauties of a university such as Carnegie Mellon University is that itabounds with mechanisms to encourage people to do research. Some of these, like formal classes, reduce the risk of learning new things. Some of them, like observ- ing other people at work on other research tasks, can bolster a graduate student’s courage to do likewise. Others, like the traditional academic tolerance of noncon- formity, reduce the social risk of entertaining new ideas. The university provides mentors. My former student, Dan Cohen, called me for advice nearly 15 years after getting his Ph.D., asserting that he wanted counsel from his Òfaculty advisor.Ó I demurred, claiming that I had stopped being his advi- sor more than a dozen years ago. Not so, he said, Òit’s a tenured position.Ó Because attachments between students and faculty become strong, contact with the mentors provided by the university is valuable indeed, almost as valuable as contact with students. I have learned far more from my students and gained more pleasure from them than I have ever offered in return. 2.2Formal Mechanisms Among university classes, I Þnd the study seminar most interesting for several rea-sons. Such a seminar gathers together a group with similar interests who read up on a subject and pool their knowledge at regular meetings. By providing a series of regular meetings and homework assignments, the study seminar provides dead- lines for its participants. Working together with colleagues reduces the labor required from each participant and makes the learning experience more pleasur- able. Finally, working in a group reduces the perceived risk inherent in the new material.The immigration course in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University isone of the best examples of a formal way to help new graduate students get started.
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10It forces them to learn about what facilities are available, it gives them the oppor-tunity to meet and get to know the people they may work with, and it introduces them to the existing research projects. By providing a broad range of background knowledge and forcing the students to do a small warm-up project, it not only reduces the risk of learning what equipment is available and how to use it, but it also builds conÞdence. I applaud the makers of the immigration course for Þnding such an effective way to launch would-be researchers. The university also offers formal mechanisms to encourage graduate students to keep going when the going gets tough. One of these in Computer Science at Carn- egie Mellon University is called Black Friday. As I understand it, Black Friday is a knock-down-drag-out meeting of the faculty at which each and every graduate student is individually discussed to detect those making inadequate progress. The laggards are then given formal notice to move forward or leave. By increasing the risk of inaction, the threat of Black Friday forces students to bolster their courage and get on with their work.My advice for a new graduate student seeking to get started in research is to join anongoing research group. Of course there is an opportunity cost to joining up with a particular group: you can’t then join others. But it matters far less what a new stu- dent does than that he do something. If the Þrst two or three things don’t work out, you can always switch to another group or another project. The key thing is to get involved in something, get some basic knowledge, and get started.2.3Talking and Writing A thesis proposal can provide a starting mechanism for a thesis project: it canserve as a guide to the proposed research. It indicates that some thought has gone into what to do, even though the real work may not yet have started. Most impor- tant, the thesis proposal can serve as a point of discussion between proposers and their advisors, both formal faculty advisors and student colleagues. Accepting the thesis proposal is in and of itself a way for the faculty to encourage a student to get on with the work. All too often, thesis proposals are an afterthought to research already done, becoming at best an outline of the thesis document. I far prefer them earlier as a guide to the research itself.Academia provides mechanisms to encourage publication of which the strongestone is known as Òpublish or perish.Ó A new, untenured faculty member must
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11obtain tenure or leave the university after a Þxed period of time, but to obtain ten-ure one must publish. A journal editor I know once remarked that she sits on the tenure committee of every university in the country. Tenure itself can be encouraging. A young and talented friend of mine, a computer scientist by training and a tenured professor of Computer Science at a major insti- tution, has recently become interested in combustion. He commented to me recently that he feels guilty for pursuing studies so far outside his departmental boundary. I hope you share my feeling that he should follow his interests exactly where they lead. That is, after all, precisely what tenure should encourage him to do.Universities also provide a host of places where talking about research is easy. Seminars provide a knowledgeable and usually friendly audience for new ideas. By providing peer pressure to participate and share results, seminars can encour- age students to practice talking about their work. Even in an informal seminar, the first few presentations take an extra batch of courage, but with practice comes familiarity and skill, a better assessment of the minimal risk, and increasing com- fort. I have often seen student speakers literally shake before and during their talks.Practice in teaching is a good way to learn how to present ideas to groups. Gradu-ate student teachers not only staff undergraduate classes, but also learn to speak in public. One hopes that they do not damage the undergraduate students too badly. Practice in writing is also valuable, starting in high school or undergraduate English classes. All too often technical writing has to be a part of graduate educa- tion.2.4Informal Interactions One of the difficult lessons of graduate school is the lesson of autonomy from the faculty. At Þrst, a graduate student may feel unable to question his mentors, but by the end of graduate training, that same student will be able to take his place as a researcher in their ranks. Graduate school is the place where the distinction between mentor and student begins to blur, and faculty and graduate students become colleagues.
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