John Backus: Computer Science Pioneer

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OZY

It was 1954 and somewhere in the offices of IBM, a 30-year-old whiz named John Backus and a small team of programmers came up with a new computer language. Backus later confessed that he was unsure of what he was doing. But his invention of FORTRAN — the first widely accepted high-level computer programming language — was about to change … well, just about everything. Continue reading on Ozy…

Señor Bello

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The Economist started a new column this week on Latin America. The column sets out to provide deeper coverage on Latin America. After much deliberation, it earned the name Bello, after Andrés Bello.

Bello was a “Venezuelan-born polymath, educator, writer and diplomat.” Not surprisingly, Bello seems to fit the mold of The Economist’s liberal (in the classical sense of liberal) set of attitudes. Bello believed in strong state institutions, free trade, and public education for all.

That being said, he was against the top-down attitude that the 19th-century Latin American fighter-for-independence Simon Bolívar pushed on the region. Instead of believing that new republics coming fresh out of the gates from colonial rule needed strong, top-down authority, Bello wanted to see the development of citizens sow the seeds for civilization in Latin America.

From The Economist…

The causes espoused by Bello—the rule of law, education and openness—are enduring ones. They loom especially large in Latin America today, as the great commodity boom wanes. Populists peddling an inward-looking nationalism, who have ruled by state diktat and political favour rather than by law, are being found out at last, as this month’s devaluations in Argentina and Venezuela show.

What would he say in response to Latin America today? That is a secret no one will ever find out. The Economist is honest with its feelings though: “In 21st-century Latin America the teachings of the region’s greatest 19th-century public intellectual are more relevant than ever.” No secrets here.

photo Universidad de Chile