[Self-interest] Proposal for a modernized Self dialect

Randy Smith randy.smith at gmail.com
Mon Dec 13 19:41:32 UTC 2021

Eric, Thanks for this well thought-out and well-written (with references!) note!

Just a comment on one of your points. 

> I'd therefore suggest the implementation of a mechanism that allowed
> Self objects to be stored, referenced and accessed from everywhere
> (without destroying the illusion of all objects being "live" and in the same world)

When I was in the Smalltalk group at PARC, (1980’s) Adele Goldberg encouraged us to think about collaborative computing, and so I wondered what one might do at the language level to support it. (I think this was just before Dave came along and we started up Self ideas.) There were a number of brilliant people around, so it was fun to talk with them. (e.g., Mark Miller, Peter Deutsch, and Danny Bobrow among those I recall especially.)  My approach of course was to try to get a simple and uniform underlying model for objects all over the world, sharing references as though in one giant, globe-spanning VM. I did some hacks with “transparent forwarders” and object migration in the PARC Smalltalk-80 world, but ran aground of numerous issues some virtually impossible to really solve in Smalltalk-80 (for example "ifTrue:" isn’t even a message) and others that are easy to enumerate once one starts thinking about it. Nothing came of that line of work, we are talking like 1987 or something and there were performance problems that made the whole enterprise questionable for the foreseeable future. 

While at Sun I worked out a paper-design for a language called “Us,”  (so named as to emphasize the inherited ideas from Self now applied to a world of multiple viewpoints). The fundamental approach in Us was to reify as objects and therefore embrace the issues of multiple perspectives that collaborative systems immediately raise. However, once I had worked out a story, I found that in trying to describe what I had hoped to be a simple and uniform vision I would be greeted with patient but usually silent confused stares. This experience stood in stark contrast to describing Self which would often bring smiles and nods.  I started to feel that the complexity was simply too much and grew discouraged. 

Dave and I briefly discussed taking Self in various directions like this once Sun got committed to Java and grew cool on Self. It would be a major paradigm shift and I’m sure much thinking along these lines has been done by now many times over, and I confess I haven’t tracked the thinking. I’d be interested in thoughts of others and/or in a summery of what has been done or at least thought of along these lines.

Thanks for listening!


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