Was this the equivalent of a bug in the
Lifting both legs was a bug. A computer is the most extraordinary error
amplifier ever built, because a computer
has no common sense and no humor. If
you give it the wrong order, it will do that
100%. The difference between a bug and
no bug could be one character in a million. That’s the difficulty of computing.
Most people don’t understand that.
Your big breakthrough was the Esterel
programming language. How did that
From 1970 to 1982, I was working
Years ago, I visited a school to
teach young children about comput-
ing. My motto was that the computer
is exactly the contrary of a kid: the
kid is clever, not very exact, and quite
slow; the computer is extremely ex-
act, very fast, but not clever. I said to
the kids that when programming, we
must try to be as stupid as a comput-
er. Then I transformed myself into
a robot. They had to program me to
cross the classroom, but I told them
I understood only completely stupid
commands. So one kid says “lift your
left leg.” I lifted my left leg. The other
kid says “lift your right leg,” and I fell
on the floor.
AS A CHILD, Gérard Berry was so fascinated with chemistry that he built his
own lab, but once he discovered his
first computer, he knew the machine
was for him. In 1982, the pioneering
computer scientist began developing Esterel, a time- and event-focused
programming language that would
eventually be used in avionics, communications systems, microprocessor design, and many other areas. In
September, Berry was awarded the
CNRS Gold Medal, the most prestigious scientific research honor in
France. He holds the first permanent
chair in computer science at the Collège de France, and he now is turning
his focus to diffuse programming, or
controlling the connected objects that
make up the Internet of Things.
How were you introduced to computer
I studied mathematics and physics at École Polytechnique, one of the
main schools in France, and I discovered my first computer there in 1968.
That was an old computer, but I really
understood very fast that a computer
is exactly the opposite of a human being. It’s really fast, really exact, and
completely stupid. So it was interesting to figure out how to speak to this
beast so that we could have it do whatever we couldn’t do ourselves.
In your lectures, you have spoken about
this notion of the stupid computer, and
how it is important to be as stupid as a
computer when programming. What
do you mean by that?
DOI: 10.1145/2684423 Gregory Mone
From Esterel to HipHop
This year’s CNRS Gold Medal recipient, Gérard Berry, discusses his
roots in computer science, why computers are stupid, and how he has
helped to simplify programming.
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