Cappuccino & Creativity: Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, Sentovich, and Szymanski


Ellen – Alberto, you may not know it, but the DAC Committee is still talking about your keynote address at DAC in 2003.

Alberto – That is another talk that I rehearsed to death. I rehearsed in front of a number of students at Cal – they had a ball giving me so much trouble during my rehearsals. They would say, “This is not clear,” or “This doesn’t follow from that.” [Alberto laughed.]

Ellen – Yes, and I’m sure they learned a lot in the process. [Ellen laughed.]

Peggy – I remember that keynote well. How did you come up with the idea of comparing the history of EDA with the Age of Gods, the Age of Heroes, and the Age of Man?

Alberto – Why? It is related to my research. In the issue of system-level design, I have found what I hope is a unifying theory, a unifying theory for EDA. But, back in high school, I studied the classics – 5 years of Greek and 8 years of Latin. So in looking at the history of EDA, I said, Click! I know where this comes from!

It started with Giovanni Battista Vico, the first philosopher of history who developed a set of rules by which history works. He said governments are formed, states are made and then die. From him, we have this view of recursion and recourse – things happen again and again. I noticed the same phenomenon within the history of EDA. The history is like a sine wave.

Peggy – But what if we see history as a spiral that doubles back on itself, while also progressing, rather than a sine wave?

Alberto – We’re looking at meta data here, while the philosophy of history looks at the principles. So Vico’s principle looks at how people behave. For instance, when the U.S. was formed, there was a great deal of extreme enthusiasm worldwide. You can see clearly that the formation of the U.S. was the basis of the French Revolution. It is the sine wave in history.

You can see it again in 1968 when there was another wave of revolution for good or bad. I was in university at the time in Europe, and although the content of the 1968 revolution was different than that of the French Revolution, some events were similar. The ’68 revolution, to a certain extent, spread worldwide and it supports a common meta principle that it should be so. When you look at the history of EDA, you’ll see there are cycles there as well. It’s always verification, then synthesis, then verification, then synthesis. A sine wave.

The other interesting thing is that if you look at the population of moths. You have these invasions, with huge amounts of moths in one particular year. The year after that, the numbers have returned to normal because they’ve been consumed [by their predators]. In EDA, there is this expansion and shrinking of populations of companies, as well. First there are increased number of players and then less. Although you sometimes wonder why so many were funded at one time, for instance, in 1999/2000 when the real frenzy started for investing in certain new companies.

I come from the baby boom generation, and from looking at 1968, it is clear what the outcome was going to be from the baby boom. They were born to parents who had suffered through the war, but they themselves were not witnesses to any war, so we were very optimistic that we could change the world. There were many among us with that confidence. But if you look at our offspring, the X Generation, these people are prosperous, but they’re very worried. They’re spoiled and lack confidence that they can change the world. They have this feeling that they’re helpless.

Ellen – I don’t think they have the hunger of [earlier generations].

Alberto – I remember my father telling me that after World War II was over there was reconstruction. He felt Europe had come up from a pit, and could only go further up. Now the world is in a stable situation. Yes, there is terrorism, but it’s not like in 1918 or 1940. Those kinds of wars are no more. The younger generation today is not threatened, but they’re afraid to look at what they’ve got. There’s an unwillingness to take risks. [In fact], you have a lot of isolationism, people wanting to stay alone, to build a cocoon. They stay on the Internet and only interact with the world through a shield.

Peggy – You make it sound like a form of autism. And also, isn’t this a result of the electronic devices that your work has partially helped to develop?

Alberto – Yes, it is like autism. But what I see is a very serious problem with the younger generation. They may not have the spark of invention that we had in 1968 when the world seemed ours to conquer. The markets were growing all over the place then, and the people controlling those markets were the kids of the Baby Boom generation. We felt we were actors in charge of our destiny – in France at the Sorbonne, and across all of Europe.

Peggy – The idea that freedom is another word for nothing left to lose?

Alberto – Yes, but in social terms we are all intertwined.

Ellen – In France, I used to see scientific people going into the research labs, but now, 5 or 6 years later, that has changed. There is more money for startups in Europe and more people are going there. I’ve seen this change in just these few years.

Albert – Yes, I think the sine wave can be measured in 5-year intervals now. It’s definitely accelerating.

Ellen – At the same time in France today, I think things are sliding – things like health care and the social network.

Alberto – In Europe, societies are based on socialism, but they have to compete now in a bigger, global society. However, the social goal for Europeans [continues to be] to work less, and enjoy life more, and to try to accomplish these goals for the largest numbers of people. In Europe, you don’t have to worry about getting sick because you’ll be taken care of.

But who is giving the money to sustain all of this? On the one side Europeans are competing with people in India and China, where there are a lot of people entering the market, and even with the U.S. where the market is very dynamic. On the other side, you have an aging population in Europe with the expectation that the social network will take care of them – they expect a guarantee. Most people that I know in Europe are retiring at 58, pulling more money out of the system than is being put back in.

I know a lot of people from the north of Europe, Scandinavia and so on. Most are socialist, but the taxes are unbelievable. In Sweden, there is actually a great deal of depression. People say, if I earn money, it goes to the state. There is no incentive there. If I work more, if I work less, I have a child, if I am a divorced woman, [in all situations] I will have full support from the state. Life becomes boring and sad. I [had the opportunity] to go to Russia when it was under Brezhnev. That was also depressing. And it’s the same in Italy today. People are asking, What does it matter what I do? It makes you ask what is the real goal of human life?

Ellen – We see this happening in countries with large aboriginal populations, as well.

Alberto – I’m very Calvinist – from Milan and Torino. We believe that if you’ve been given some gifts in life, it’s your duty to make the most of them. Don’t waste yourself. Go to Harvard, or do whatever you want, but remember you have a brain. That brain means you have to do something, to make a dent in the world. Everyone should do some thinking! I have three rules for my children:

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