richard p gabriel

SE Radio 84: Dick Gabriel on Lisp

Recording Venue: OOPSLA 2007
Guest: Richard P. Gabriel
Host: Markus
In this Episode we’re talking with Dick Gabriel on Lisp. We started by looking at artificial intelligence as the historic context of Lisp, the goals AI tried to reach, and how Lisp was supposed to help reach those.

We then discussed the language itself, starting with the Data As Program / Program As Data concept that is a foundation for Lisp. Then we discussed adding a meta-circular interpreter, programming as language development, and the blurred boundary between language and frameworks (because everything uses the same syntax). We then talked about Lisp’s type system and the importance of macros to extend the language.

The next section concerned CLOS, the Common Lisp Object System and its important concepts: generic functions, multimethods, mixins, and method combination. We also briefly looked at the meta-object protocol but agreed this is a topic for a separate episode. After a discussion about the various dialects of Lisp and Scheme, we concluded the Lisp discussion by explaining why Lisp did not really catch on (“AI Winter”) and Lisp’s role in today’s industry.

We ended the episode with a couple of details about Dick’s other life as a poet and his Poem a Day effort.

Make sure you listen till the end, where we have added a song about Lisp (courtesy of Prometheus Music.)

Show Notes


Join the discussion
  • Dear SE Radio team. Thanks for the interview with Dick. I was enjoying it today on my bike. It was brilliant, especially since I have reincarnated my Lisp knowledge only a few months ago. It is really impressing to hear some historical background by someone who has widely influenced the field himself. I also personally share Dick’s philosophy of combing art and computer science. Maybe, this could be a special topic for SE Radio sometime in the future, couldn’t it? BTW: What wasn’t mentioned that he is also sometimes acting as a rock musician. Maybe, you could get some more of these exciting pioneers.

    — Michael

  • Again, a very nice and interesting podcast. You make my long car drives something to look forward to 🙂 Do you happen to have the link to the McCarthy video mentioned in the podcast. I cannot seem to find it…

    Thanx and keep up the great work!

  • Hello,
    a big thank you to the interviewer and the interviewee to for broadcasting this interview. It is my favorite intverview on se-radio.
    Only one thing is missing – the link to the book Dick talked about:
    Please do more interviews with people that shaped the history of computer science. Looking back at history is very entertraining and relaxing in an industry that comes up with a new hype every couple of months or so.

  • I really enjoyed this interview. Very interesting material, plus it was clear and loud enough for me to here on my commute. :)

  • Hi Markus,

    Great interview, even better than usual, with Dick Gabriel.

    You mentioned that you were going to put in a link for the “Growing a Language” presentation by Guy Steele. The links to the video and the transcript follow.

    Best Regards,

    Cliff Thompson

  • … for submitting the links (and the nice words :-))

    I have added the URLs to the links section of the Episode.


  • I absolutely have to agree with my fellow commentators. This episode was great. Having listened to the OOPSLA performance of Guy and Dick before I had high expectations which were fully met.
    Having you talk about the features lisp had then in these pioneer ages, which were almost forgotten in between and only recently rediscovered reminded me on the dark age of sciene in the middle ages.
    I programmed some emacs lisp back then and found it very convenient. But I think I’ll take a try with scheme. Any suggestion for introductory material on that?

    I’d also vote for more interviews with this kind of guys who shaped the landscape we’re living in today. Perhaps you can record some interviews at qcon as many of the influential people are there.

    Michael Hunger
    Independend Software Developer
    Java embedded SQL DSL –

  • One of the best so far!

    As suggested by other commenters, I would also like to hear more interviews with those people who shaped the world of computer science over the past decades.


  • How fascinating to hear Dick Gabriel put Lisp, AI, and programming into historical perspective. Great stuff. His description of the creative process was very interesting also. Thanks for another quality podcast.

  • Thank you for this podcast, I enjoyed it a lot. I like the parallel between software engineering and poetry. We, software engineers, are scientists, but we are also creative people.

  • Hi,

    Since there is a lot of excellent material on Lisp in this interview, do you have an approximate time when this interview may be transcribed?

    Best Regards,

    Cliff Thompson

  • It’s utterly fascinating to listen to people with so much experience in our field and so much wisdom to share. Please, please, please try to find more people like Richard.

  • Hi Marcus, et al.,

    Excellent transcription! — also really liked the extra effort you put in with the links.

    Best Regards,

    Cliff Thompson

  • For 2019, I’m finally going to dive into Common Lisp. So, I was looking for good resources and true subject matter experts speaking on it, and I found this podcast episode!

    I know it is 10 years old, but I appreciate it!

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