[TUHS] Future Languages (was Pascal not Favorite...)

Steve Johnson scj at yaccman.com
Sat Sep 2 04:15:15 AEST 2017

 "Toby Thain:  We will never reach a point where programming language
evolution stops, imho."

I may just be a grumpy old fart, but I think programming languages
today are holding us back.   Nearly all of them...

I'm currently working for a hardware company (Wave Computing).   We
are building a chip with 16K 8-bit processors on it, and have plans to
build systems with up to 1/4 million processors from these chips.

Nevertheless, most programs today are still written pretty much like
they were 25 years ago.   And they are, for the most part, based on
threads where the programming task is to set out a number of steps: 
do this, do that, do something else, test this and if true do this,
...      A single serial thread.  Things like multicore CPUs are
a desperate attempt to preserve this model while the hardware world
has blown past us.

Recall that parallelism is the natural state of hardware.  It takes
effort to make things work sequentially.  In the old days, when
hardware and software used pretty much the same model, many if not
most of the hardware innovations came from first being done in
software, and then moved into hardware -- index registers, floating
point, caches, etc. etc.    That process has effectively stopped. 
The single thread model simply no longer fits the sweet spot of
today's hardware technology.

Just to underscore how far hardware has advanced:  If cars had become
as much cheaper and faster as computers from 1970 to today, we could
buy 1000 Tesla Model S's for a penny and they would go 0-60,000
mph!   A petabyte of data, if punched onto punch cards, would make a
card deck whose height would be 6 times the distance to the moon.  
If the recent estimate of the number of bytes of data produced by the
human race _every day_ (2.5 quintillion bytes) is correct, when
punched up _that_ card deck would be 9 times the distance to the sun.

I'm not saying that there isn't a place for languages like GO and
Python.  Most people will continue to think serially and design
things that way.  But when it comes to implementing these designs,
the current "systems" languages are left at the starting gate.   In
the same way that we invented abstraction methods like functions and
processes for the old computers, we need to invent newer abstraction
methods that go far beyond co-routines and threads and message
passing.  If we get bogged down in telling tens of thousands of
processors "do this, do that" we will perish long before our program
works.  Of particular relevance is the role that abstractions play in
debugging --they partition the job into pieces with known interfaces
and behavior that can be tested in isolation before being assembled
into complete systems.

Yes, I have some ideas (and not much time to work on them...) but,
even if I had a perfect solution available today, I suspect it would
take decades before it caught on.   In order to accept a solution,
you first have to believe there is a problem...


----- Original Message -----
From: "Toby Thain" <toby at telegraphics.com.au>

 We will never reach a point where programming language evolution


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