Edge: CODE - George Dyson & John Brockman: A Dialogue [page 4]
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JB: Any advice to the Justice Department?

DYSON: Lay off this question of whether you can merge your browser and your operating system and these other vague things-all they can possibly lead to is being argued about in court for ten years. Send a bunch of hard-nosed lawyers in there who understand business deals and can crack down on some of the details-any number of smaller cases where Microsoft has pushed their weight around-but not these big religious issues that can't be solved. Make sure they obey the absolute letter of the law.

JB: What's a religious issue?

DYSON: Well, the issue of whether Microsoft is a monopoly or not, or where you draw the line between applications and operating systems. Those are tough things to legally decide. And can you really do anything if you decide them?

JB: Are you saying that there's no point in breaking up Microsoft and having an operating system company and an applications company that compete?

DYSON: Right, because the only way you can break it up is by forcing some larger government administrative structure upon it, so the cure is worse than the disease. One thing we know about regulation is that it's very, very slow, and it's usually about ten years behind. Microsoft may exercise its power unwisely, but government inefficiency may be worse.

JB: The Justice department's involvement on the technological level is off the mark. There are issues to consider that are more important than Microsoft, Netscape, "the consumers", or the today's economy. We don't need Justice, Congress, the lawyers for this.

DYSON: We need biologists. Molecular biologists and field biologists. Entomologists. Immunologists. Viral geneticists-they can tell you how to write (or evolve) robust code. As far as I know, there's almost no biologists at Microsoft. Lots of physicists, and four-dimensional topologists even, and of course Nathan's work with dinosaurs, but not much else. Maybe they're keeping it quiet. It reminds me of Von Neumann's computer group at the Institute in the 1950s-Charney's meteorology group was a convenient smoke screen for all the calculations being done on thermonuclear bombs. But the bombs were sort of an open secret. There was a much deeper secret, however: Nils Barricelli's numerical symbioorganisms. No one dared draw attention to that.

JB: Have you discussed this with Microsoft?

DYSON: I was invited to visit Microsoft-and gave my pitch for software evolution as a somewhat haphazard symbiogenetic process, and some of the programmers seemed to take this as a criticism of their work. Programmers write code, code doesn't self-evolve.

JB: What was your pitch?

DYSON: In nature, every possible variation of code is tried sooner or later and nature selects what works. You throw code at the universe and see what grows. That in a very crude sense is what I see happening at Microsoft. There are 13,000 people, many of them writing code. Whole divisions write code for a year and if it doesn't work and the market doesn't buy it, it's dead-if it's something that works, if something's successful, it grows. You throw money like grass seed in a park and watch where the paths form. There are some very clever programmers but can anyone predict ahead of time what's going to work? I think it's much more an element of chance. It's not random- you see the successful things because they're the ones that get to market, but it doesn't take thousands of people to write-even to write an operating system.

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