RFC 373 and Unicode

From: John Cowan (cowan@locke.ccil.org)
Date: Wed Aug 18 1999 - 14:02:30 EDT

RFC 373, "Arbitrary Character Sets", by John McCarthy of the
Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is dated 14 July 1972.
It contains some extremely interesting anticipations, 17 years
ago, of Unicode and the way things are now.

1) McCarthy proposes a universal character set, and even guesses
17 bits as "enough even to include Chinese", which is correct
if we consider only planes 0 and 2. It is true that he thinks
of the UCS as an open registry rather than an architected
character set, but that is a detail.

2) He also proposes a registry of (implicitly 8-bit) character sets,
cross-referenced to the universal set. Each character set would
have an escape sequence indicating its use.

3) He grasps the nettle of the character/glyph model, proposing a
reference bitmap glyph (50 x 50 rather than 96 x 96), but allowing
"devices" to have their own glyphs as needed.

4) He mentions fonts, but basically confines himself to plain text.

5) He ends with the following delightful piece of optimism:

"In my opinion, there is no real obstacle to establishing the
[UCS and character-set] registry in the [Internet] now, getting
the [unnamed] standards organization to work, and being able
to exchange documents in extended character sets as soon as
the various installations can acquire the printers and display

"It is the present [1972] policy of the Stanford Artificial
Intelligence Laboratory to acquire no more devices that are
wedded to fixed character sets."

    -- http://info.internet.isi.edu/in-notes/rfc/files/rfc373.txt

	John Cowan	http://www.ccil.org/~cowan	cowan@ccil.org
Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis um dies! / Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau,
Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau / Und trank die Milch vom Paradies.
			-- Coleridge / Politzer

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