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HiPEAC voices If you haven’t heard HiPEAC 2020 keynote speaker James Mickens talk before, you’ve been missing out. From machine learning’s similarity to a portal to a demon universe to the inherent unreliability of distributed systems, by way of disconcerting football mascots and potato hands, the Harvard computer science professor offers a fresh, funny and, above all, human take on computing systems. [Warning: this interview contains irony.]

‘Unlike SGX, an abacus isn’t vulnerable to side channels’ Your talk at HiPEAC focuses on computer security – but

It has sometimes been suggested that researchers might like

everything about computer security is fine, right, so what will

to talk to people from other fields and look beyond their field

you actually have to say?

of architectural or compiler brilliance. Why is it important to

Indeed, I was shocked to learn that computer security became a

have a holistic perspective?

solved problem in the past six months. The majority of my HiPEAC

I was unaware that there are other types of brilliance besides

talk will now be devoted to lengthy rants about airport WiFi. I feel

architecture brilliance and compiler brilliance. Do you have

confident that the HiPEAC audience will enjoy my five-act, one-

citations to support this claim? Note that I only accept citations

man play involving the relative merits of “Fr334irport_99GHZ”

from ISCA, ASPLOS, or original napkin scribblings by Tomasulo.

versus “nope_nope_A_WOLFMAN_APPEARS_waffles.” Europe likes to hold itself up as a kind of moral authority on Aren’t ethical considerations just something which liberal arts

digital technology. Do you think that some of the approaches

graduates invented to hold back the marvel that is machine

being applied, such as the General Data Protection Regulation


(GDPR) for privacy, are in the right direction?

Anything which limits the rate of initial public offerings

The GDPR assumes that Europeans have interesting data to steal.

is suspicious by default and likely related to communism.

However, criminals don’t care about the best way to wear a beret,

Unrestricted stock options are the best way to inspire the

or how you can build a manual-transmission car that seats one-

moral deviants whose imaginations will unlock tantalizing new

and-a-half people uncomfortably. Americans have real data to

markets like selling-blood-as-a-service and on-demand-bedbug-

steal, like the best way to make a turducken for Thanksgiving.


Do you know what a turducken is? It’s a chicken stuffed inside a

Ethical considerations are just tiny chains that we must break

duck stuffed inside a turkey. A single turducken contains 17,000

to enable a world in which gig workers create simulations of

calories and is created via a process that resembles nuclear

other gig workers, thereby creating a self-sustaining recursion of

fusion. Turduckens also demand to be served with sauces that

ambiguous social progress which becomes less ambiguous the

will add another 4,000 – 5,000 calories. If the American national

more that you look at it. Science!

anthem isn’t playing in your inner monologue right now, STAND UP AND RESPECT MY FLAG. Given the potential of digital technology for wreaking havoc, do we need to go back to executing computational tasks on an abacus or sticks? Unlike SGX, an abacus isn’t vulnerable to side channels. So, that’s nice. The 0.5 Hz clock speed is somewhat unfortunate, but it does give you time to appreciate your inevitable mortality. A well-developed sense of your finite nature will encourage you to write code that compiles on the first try. Want more? Visit The Wisdom of James Mickens: mickens.seas.harvard.edu/wisdom-james-mickens

Look! No side channels. Photo credit: Tha’o Vy Võ Pha‚m, Pixabay 16 HiPEACINFO 59

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