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Humanist Archives: March 24, 2020, 10:09 a.m. Humanist 33.684 - recipes and algorithms

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 684.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2020-03-23 06:50:09+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: recipes and algorithms

Those who bake and/or cook as well as write code will be interested in
Warren Sack's discussion of algorithms as recipes, mostly in Chapter 4
of The Software Arts (2019), beginning thus:

> Algorithms as Recipes
> So, if algorithms are not mathematics or logic, then what are they?
> Algorithms are part and parcel with what historian of science Pamela
> Long describes as the long history of writings from and about the
> mechanical arts, including "ancient writings related to technical
> production, such as Hellenistic engineering books, as well as
> writings tied to political and military praxis, including Xenophon's
> Oeconomicus and Roman agricultural writings." This tradition
> includes medieval guild regulations and continues on into today's
> language of patent law and how-to books, and, crucially, this
> tradition of the mechanical arts also includes recipes and
> cookbooks.
> Knuth recognizes this direct connection to the arts but does not
> pursue it with any rigor. In chapter 1 of the first volume of The Art
> of Computer Programming, Knuth compares algorithms to recipes,
> asserts that "a computer programmer can learn much by studying a good
> recipe book ," and then admits that "the author has barely resisted
> the temptation to name the present volume 'The Programmer's
> Cookbook.'...

His aim is to open up the gulf between algorithms as self-contained
automatic machines and software more broadly conceived. In "Interactive 
foundations of computing" (1998), Peter Wegner likewise argues that,

> Dumb algorithms become smart agents (embedded systems) when enhanced
> by interaction. Algorithms are “dumb” and “blind” because they cannot
> interact while they compute: they are autistic in precluding
> interaction. In contrast, interactive systems model an external
> reality more demanding and expressive than inner algorithmic
> transformation rules.

More on this topic would surely be welcome in our respective isolations.

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org)

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Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
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