William Nelson Joy
November 8, 1954 |
Farmington Hills, Michigan
|Alma mater||University of Michigan
University of California, Berkeley
|Known for||Co-founder of Sun Microsystems
BSD and Solaris
"Why the Future Doesn't Need Us"
William Nelson Joy (born November 8, 1954) is an American computer scientist. Joy co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 along with Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy and Andreas von Bechtolsheim, and served as chief scientist at the company until 2003. He played an integral role in the early development of BSD UNIX while a graduate student at Berkeley, and he is the original author of the vi text editor. He also wrote the essay "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us", in which he expressed deep concerns over the development of modern technologies.
Early career 
Joy was born in the Detroit suburb Farmington Hills, Michigan to William Joy, a school vice-principal and counselor, and Ruth Joy. Joy received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master of Science in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1979. Joy's graduate advisor was Bob Fabry.
As a UC Berkeley graduate student, Joy worked for Fabry's Computer Systems Research Group CSRG in managing the BSD support and rollout where many claim he was largely responsible for managing the authorship of BSD UNIX, from which sprang many later forms of UNIX, including FreeBSD, NetBSD, Tru64, OpenBSD and SunOS/Solaris itself. Apple Inc. has based much of the Mac OS X kernel and OS services on the BSD technology.
Some of his most notable contributions were the vi editor and csh. Joy's prowess as a computer programmer is legendary, with an oft-told anecdote that he wrote the vi editor in a weekend. Joy denies this assertion. Other of his accomplishments have also been sometimes exaggerated; Eric Schmidt, CEO of Novell at the time, inaccurately reported during an interview in PBS's documentary Nerds 2.0.1 that Joy had personally rewritten the BSD kernel in a weekend.
According to a Salon article, during the early 1980s DARPA had contracted the company Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) to add TCP/IP to Berkeley UNIX. Joy had been instructed to plug BBN's stack into Berkeley Unix, but he refused to do so, as he had a low opinion of BBN's TCP/IP. So, Joy wrote his own high-performance TCP/IP stack. According to John Gage,
BBN had a big contract to implement TCP/IP, but their stuff didn't work, and grad student Joy's stuff worked. So they had this big meeting and this grad student in a T-shirt shows up, and they said, "How did you do this?" And Bill said, "It's very simple — you read the protocol and write the code."
Rob Gurwitz, who was working at BBN at the time, disputes this version of events.
In 1982, after the firm had been going for six months, Joy was brought in with full co-founder status at Sun Microsystems.
On September 9, 2003 Sun announced that Bill Joy was leaving the company and that he "is taking time to consider his next move and has no definite plans".
Post-Sun activities 
In 1999 Joy co-founded a venture capital firm, HighBAR Ventures, with two Sun colleagues, Andreas von Bechtolsheim and Roy Thiele-Sardiña. In January 2005 he was named a partner in venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where he has made investments in green energy industries. He has once said, "My method is to look at something that seems like a good idea and assume it's true". In 2011 he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum.
Technology concerns 
In 2000 Joy gained notoriety with the publication of his article in Wired Magazine, "Why the future doesn't need us", in which he declared, in what some have described as a "neo-Luddite" position, that he was convinced that growing advances in genetic engineering and nanotechnology would bring risks to humanity. He argued that intelligent robots would replace humanity, at the very least in intellectual and social dominance, in the relatively near future. He advocates a position of relinquishment of GNR (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) technologies, rather than going into an arms race between negative uses of the technology and defense against those negative uses (good nano-machines patrolling and defending against Grey Goo "bad" nano-machines). Many of his arguments have been addressed by Ray Kurzweil and by others.
A bar-room discussion of these technologies with inventor and technological-singularity thinker Ray Kurzweil started to set his thinking along this path. He states in his essay that during the conversation, he became surprised that other serious scientists were considering such possibilities likely, and even more astounded at what he felt was a lack of considerations of the contingencies. After bringing the subject up with a few more acquaintances, he states that he was further alarmed by what he felt was the fact that although many people considered these futures possible or probable, that very few of them shared as serious a concern for the dangers as he seemed to. This concern led to his in-depth examination of the issue and the positions of others in the scientific community on it, and eventually, to his current activities regarding it.
Despite this he is a venture capitalist, investing in GNR technology companies. He has also raised a specialty venture fund to address the dangers of pandemic diseases, such as H5N1 avian influenza and biological weapons.
- "UC Berkeley Online Tour: Famous Alumni". Archived from the original on 27 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
- Bill Joy's greatest gift to man – the vi editor, The Register
- BSD Unix: Power to the people, from the code - Salon.com
- Bill Joy on Green Tech, Sun's downfall, Microsoft's prospects (Q&A) May 2010
- Shirky: A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy
- Ray Kurzweil, Are We Becoming an Endangered Species? Technology and Ethics in the Twenty First Century, November 20, 2001. http://www.kurzweilai.net/are-we-becoming-an-endangered-species-technology-and-ethics-in-the-twenty-first-century
- Tihamer Toth-Fejel, Why the future needs Bill Joy, May 20, 2000, http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/BillJoyWhyCrit.htm
- Catherine Borden, Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/20/magazine/l-the-money-issue-976857.html?src=pm
- Bill Joy at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about Bill Joy in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- An Introduction to Display Editing with Vi
- Bill Joy, video clips at Big Picture TV
- Excerpts from a 1999 Linux Magazine interview regarding the development of vi
- NerdTV interview (video, audio, and transcript available) - 30 June 2005
- The Six Webs, 10 Years On - speech at MIT Emerging Technologies conference, September 29, 2005
- Bill Joy at Dropping Knowledge, his answers to the 100 questions at Dropping Knowledge's Table of Free Voices event in Berlin, 2006.
- Computer History Museum, Sun Founders Panel, January 11, 2006