Rust's language ergonomics initiative

Aaron Turon has a nice blog post about Rust's language ergonomics initiative. It contains a description of how the Rust language design team currently thinks about "implicit" features (those that do something without the user having to write anything explicitly at this point in the program), how to design such features or detect issues with existing features.

There are three dimensions of the reasoning footprint for implicitness:

Where are you allowed to elide implied information? Is there any heads-up that this might be happening?
What influence does the elided information have? Can it radically change program behavior or its types?
How much of do you have to know about the rest of the code to know what is being implied, i.e. how elided details will be filled in? Is there always a clear place to look?

Various existing or proposed Rust features are then discussed and critiqued along these evaluation axes. I found the blog post interesting on several levels and thought it could be a nice starting point for discussion.

One thing that is important to keep in mind is that, despite the generality of the claims made about programming language design, this text is mostly about a set of design tools that has been conceived to solve a specific category of ergonomics problem. LtU regulars will be quick to point out that the interaction with programming tools, for example, is not discussed or considered at all while it is a central aspect of ergonomics in many cases (including, I think, implicitness decision). I would personally recommend trying to stay within the approximate scope of the Rust discussion (generalizing to other languages and systems), rather than discussing all aspects of "Language Ergonomics" at once, which would result in discussions all over the place (but with less people interested in each sub-discussion).

A parting remark on the end paragraph which I foud interesting:

And, perhaps most importantly, we need empathy for each other. Transformative insights can be fragile; they can start out embedded in ideas that have lots of problems. If we’re too quick to shut down a line of thought based on those problems, we risk foreclosing on avenues to something better. We’ve got to have the patience to sit with ideas that are foreign and uncomfortable, and gain some new perspective from them.

Clearly Aaron Turon is getting at the tone of online discussions which can become heated, even for details of programming language feature design. But what I think of reading those lines is that such discussion are helped by one aspect of our work as language designers, which is to produce tests and criterions to evaluate language features (and, yes, shut down some proposals more quickly than others). I fully agree that, in a foreign land of creativity, one should not judge too quickly or too harshly. But I think that the development and wider adoption of these design tests would not only result in seeing the flaws in some proposals more quickly, it would also let people iterate more quickly on their own designs, applying the tests themselves to recognize the issues without having to go through public feedback (and potential harshness).

I see similarities with the notion that mechanized proof assistants made it much easier to teach how to write rigorous mathematical proofs to beginners, as they can get direct feedback (from the computer) on whether their proof attempts are correct, without having to ask for the explicit approval of another human (their teacher or their student colleagues), with the various inhibition effects that it created. Having this internal feedback is what the design principles, laws, and various meta-theorems that our community developed enable, and it is one of the side-benefits of formalism.