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Fwd: Re: Industry versus academia

[Michael asked me to forward his message.]

----------  Forwarded Message  ----------

Subject: Re: Industry versus academia
Date: Saturday 22 February 2003 21:51
From: Michael Vanier <mvanier@cs.caltech.edu>
To: schuerig@acm.org

> From: Michael Schuerig <schuerig@acm.org>
> Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 13:10:59 +0100
> On Friday 21 February 2003 23:53, Michael Vanier wrote:
> > To choose an example: let's say that someone invents a programming
> > language Foo that has the property that programs in Foo can be
> > automatically verified for correctness before use (this is of
> > course a long-standing holy grail of the programming languages
> > field, but never mind).  Let's say that programming in Foo requires
> > abstruse knowledge of...
> Hm... wouldn't it be even cooler if this mythological language could
> be used by average programmers to the same effect?

Sure.  But the point is, if my example were real (which it isn't), then
whether average programmers could/would use this language is
 irrelevant, because the ONLY way to get the job done would be to use a
 language like Foo, abstruse or not.  This is pretty commonplace in
 science.  If you want to build a television set, you have to know a
 lot about electronics, which I could characterize as fairly abstruse
 knowledge.  If you want to work in cryptography, you have to know a
 lot of abstruse mathematics.  The situation is different in
 programming, but my question is: what if it weren't?  How would that
 affect the PL landscape and the questions we're discussing?

> Your paragraph sounds like a desperate cry that (please! please!) all
> that esoteric knowledge amassed through hard and self-denying work
> might be important for something in the end. Please, holy programming
> deity, protect my sense of self and all that I hold dear. <evil grin>
> Yes, of course, my characterization is hugely exaggerated. I'm a
> co-sufferer anyway -- though, to my dismay(!), not as advanced --, as
> are probably most people on this list.
> Michael

I don't know about "self-denying"... my impression is that most of
 those who amassed all that knowledge did so because they thought it
 was neat ;-) Maybe an example closer to home would be more relevant. 
 If you *design* a programming language, it is very useful to
 understand such things as automata theory, type theory, undecidability
 etc., which would be considered "abstruse knowledge" by most people. 
 Nevertheless, this is highly practical knowledge when you're designing
 a new language.

I guess my point was that I find it interesting that so many of the
conceptual advances in programming languages that we discuss on this
 list seem to be useful mainly for making certain kinds of programs
 easier to write (for programmers who understand the new abstractions)
 rather than making it possible to write programs that would have been
 intractably difficult to write without them.  Maybe this is just a
 consequence of Turing completeness -- I don't know a rigorous
 definition of "intractably difficult".



Michael Schuerig               Most people would rather die than think.
mailto:schuerig@acm.org                               In fact, they do.
http://www.schuerig.de/michael/                      --Bertrand Russell