a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Coping with cancer


My love of writing and a lucky life
Donald Knuth Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

As you can see from my comments that I'm... I'm addicted to writing. I love... I love the idea of communicating ideas to other people. I think, in every case, the books that... that I've... that I've written were things where I was ... where I had learned about some... some phenomenon that I thought was just too good to keep to myself and so I wanted to... other people to share in the joy of... of reading it. So it turns out then that I have more than 20 books in print now and that's, you know, so many that I doubt if there's anybody in the world who's read more than half of them. And I sometimes think what tragedy it would be if there were 10 people in the world like me because we wouldn't have time to read each other's books, you know, it doesn't scale up. Still I'm... you know, there's a story behind every book, there's a story behind every paper that I wrote and... and it... it was not a... you know, I... I don't understand this idea of publish or perish because the... because I never wrote any of these papers because I felt that... that I needed it for my career or something like this. It was always because I want... I, you know, I thought there was a cool idea that need... that was just waiting to be... to be communicated. I... so... a guy asked me two or three weeks ago, he... it was a project that he's doing for his grade school teacher, he was supposed to take videos of... of some people that he... that he knew just a little bit and ask them the following question: 'If you could do one thing over in your life, you know, and do it differently, what would it be?' And, you know, I'd never been asked that question before and after five minutes I gave up. I... I mean I'm probably getting forgetful at my age but I just couldn't think of a single thing in... in my life that I... that I regretted, it was... I mean I just feel too... absolutely too lucky to... I came along at... riding the crests of different waves. I mean I was born at just the right time when... when computers were... were beginning to arrive in the world and I just happened to have this... this background, this combination of skills that made... that made my peculiar way of thinking in harmony with the way... with what you need in order to make a machine do tricks. So... so... if... if I had been born 10 years earlier, 10 years later the whole thing would be so much different. I... I was...was early enough in the computer field that the problems were easier then, you know, I could solve... I could solve them. We... we creamed off of the easy ones, now those people who... who are younger have... have only harder ones left to go or... or have... or have to look at problems in completely new areas which of course are very exciting, with things like robotics and other... other types of applications that are now opened up because... because... the... the fundamental, easier problems are... have provided now another level of interesting problems that are... that are attackable. But I just can't imagine being luckier or having been, you know, having had a... even though many of the things I did throughout my life weren't...weren't popular and... and not everything I, you know... not everything turned to gold, I... I just can't think of anything I would rather have done differently, and so it was very hard for me to answer this boy's question.

Born in 1938, American computing pioneer Donald Knuth is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humor.

Listeners: Dikran Karagueuzian

Trained as a journalist, Dikran Karagueuzian is the director of CSLI Publications, publisher of seven books by Donald Knuth. He has known Knuth since the late seventies when Knuth was developing TeX and Metafont, the typesetting and type designing computer programs, respectively.

Tags: robotics, luck

Duration: 4 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008