Pygrunn keynote: the future of programming - Steven PembertonΒΆ

Tags: python, pygrunn

(One of my summaries of the one-day 2016 PyGrunn conference).

Steven Pemberton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Pemberton) is one of the developers of ABC, a predecessor of python.

He’s a researcher at CWI in Amsterdam. It was the first non-military internet site in Europe in 1988 when the whole of Europe was still connected to the USA with a 64kb link.

When designing ABC they were considered completely crazy because it was an interpreted language. Computers were slow at that time. But they knew about Moore’s law. Computers would become much faster.

At that time computers were very, very expensive. Programmers were basically free. Now it is the other way. Computers are basically free and programmers are very expensive. So, at that time, in the 1950s, programming languages were designed around the needs of the computer, not the programmer.

Moore’s law is still going strong. Despite many articles claiming its imminent demise. He heard the first one in 1977. Steven showed a graph of his own computers. It fits.

On modern laptops, the CPU is hardly doing anything most of the time. So why use programming languages optimized for giving the CPU a rest?

There’s another cost. The more lines a program has, the more bugs there are in it. But it is not a linear relationship. More like lines ^ 1.5. So a program with 10x more lines probably has 30x more bugs.

Steven thinks the future of programming is in declarative programming instead of in procedural programming. Declarative code describes what you want to achieve and not how you want to achieve it. It is much shorter.

Procedural code would have specified everything in detail. He showed a code example of 1000 lines. And a declarative one of 15 lines. Wow.

He also showed an example with xforms, which is declarative. Projects that use it regularly report a factor of 10 in savings compared to more traditional methods. He mentioned a couple of examples.

Steven doesn’t necessarily want us all to jump on Xforms. It might not fit with our usecases. But he does want us to understand that declarative languages are the way to go. The approach has been proven.

In response to a question he compared it to the difference between roman numerals and arabic numerals and the speed difference in using them.

(The sheets will be up on http://homepages.cwi.nl/~steven/Talks/2016/05-13-pygrunn/ later).

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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