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Humanist Archives: March 25, 2020, 6:34 a.m. Humanist 33.688 - recipes and algorithms: why not interactive?

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 688.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2020-03-24 15:23:03+00:00
        From: Henry Schaffer 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.684: recipes and algorithms

Why can't "interact while they compute"? I need to start with figuring out
what is an algorithm. Perhaps this definition will suffice: "In mathematics
and computer science, an algorithm is a finite sequence of well-defined,
computer-implementable instructions, typically to solve a class of problems
or to perform a computation.[1][2] Algorithms are always unambiguous and
are used as specifications for performing calculations, data processing,
automated reasoning, and other tasks."

An algorithm usually has an "Input" step (e.g. see the Input box in the
figure in the flow chart in the link above). It also has an "Output" (e.g.
labelled "PRINT" in that flow chart.) It can have more than one input or
output - and they are inherently separated in time. (The time is not
specified, and it certainly depends on the speed of computation, but we
don't pretend that computation doesn't take any time, and, anyhow, an
algorithm can have a "wait" statement.

Therefore, I don't see any barrier keeping an algorithm from getting some
input, computing some output, getting some more input, computing something
about the change from the previous input, and outputting something about
that, ...

Isn't the algorithm interacting with the external world? I claim it is.


On Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 6:09 AM Humanist  wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 684.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                    Hosted by King's Digital Lab
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>         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.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> 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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