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Humanist Archives: June 4, 2020, 6:42 a.m. Humanist 34.82 - liberated?

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 82.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2020-06-03 08:07:05+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: liberated?

Thanks to Tim Smithers for putting me to rights with his note about
Backus 1978, which I've read but it seems with insufficient attention.
There remains a question, however. Tim says, referring to the undeserved
obscurity of Backus' paper:

> This neglect may have more to do with Moore's law, and the
> massive increase in computational power and capacity of real
> von Neumann machines since 1978, so much so that we now build
> virtual computers on these von Neumann machines having
> different architectures, and not notice any slowness or
> significant loss of performance.  Of course, these virtual
> machines don't change the von Machine underneath them, but
> they do allows us to completely forget about it, and thus,
> returning to the Backus question, liberate our programming
> from the von Neumann style.  Liberation has been won by
> building up and away from the von Neumann basement, and not by
> moving to a new basement, as John Backus envisaged we would
> need to do, is how I see what's happened.

Can we "completely forget" about the von Neumann machine underneath it
all? Do we "not notice" for reasons similar to those responsible for the
ease with which we have accepted digitally reproduced music? I suppose
we can forget anything we choose to forget, not notice out of culpable
insensitivity, so let me rephrase. Is the architecture of this machine
absolutely undetectable in the machines we have now? Is its conceptual
baggage without any consequence whatsoever? (Note the unmarked 
table-thumping, please.)

Let us say that we have indeed been completely liberated to do better.
Why, then, is the imperative style still so much in evidence? What is
the appeal? Is there variation of appeal across the disciplines?

Thanks again to Tim for leading to what I think are better questions. If
still better are possible, please raise them!


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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