Category Theory

Seven Sketches in Compositionality: An Invitation to Applied Category Theory

Seven Sketches in Compositionality: An Invitation to Applied Category Theory

2018 by Brendan Fong and David I. Spivak

Category theory is becoming a central hub for all of pure mathematics. It is unmatched in its ability to organize and layer abstractions, to find commonalities between structures of all sorts, and to facilitate communication between different mathematical communities. But it has also been branching out into science, informatics, and industry. We believe that it has the potential to be a major cohesive force in the world, building rigorous bridges between disparate worlds, both theoretical and practical. The motto at MIT is mens et manus, Latin for mind and hand. We believe that category theory—and pure math in general—has stayed in the realm of mind for too long; it is ripe to be brought to hand.
A very approachable but useful introduction to category theory. It avoids the Scylla and Charybdis of becoming incomprehensible after page 2 (as many academic texts do), and barely scratching the surface (as many popular texts do).

Comprehending Ringads

Comprehending Ringads

2016 by Jeremy Gibbons

Ringad comprehensions represent a convenient notation for expressing database queries. The ringad structure alone does not provide a good explanation or an efficient implementation of relational joins; but by allowing heterogeneous comprehensions, involving both bag and indexed table ringads, we show how to accommodate these too.
Indexed/parametric/graded monads are the key (read the paper to understand the pun).

Databases from finite categories

Spivak and Kent (2011). Ologs: A categorical framework for knowledge representation:

In this paper we introduce the olog, or ontology log, a category-theoretic model for knowledge representation (KR). Grounded in formal mathematics, ologs can be rigorously formulated and cross-compared in ways that other KR models (such as semantic networks) cannot. An olog is similar to a relational database schema; in fact an olog can serve as a data repository if desired. Unlike database schemas, which are generally difficult to create or modify, ologs are designed to be user-friendly enough that authoring or reconfiguring an olog is a matter of course rather than a difficult chore. It is hoped that learning to author ologs is much simpler than learning a database definition language, despite their similarity. We describe ologs carefully and illustrate with many examples. As an application we show that any primitive recursive function can be described by an olog. We also show that ologs can be aligned or connected together into a larger network using functors. The various methods of information flow and institutions can then be used to integrate local and global world-views. We finish by providing several different avenues for future research.

Ologs are essentially RDFs extended to encompass commuting diagrams, so a visual little language. The paper talks about how database schema can automatically be extracted from ologs.

Philip Wadler: Category Theory for the Working Hacker

Nothing you don't already know, if you are inteo this sort of thing (and many if not most LtU-ers are), but a quick way to get the basic idea if you are not. Wadler has papers that explain Curry-Howard better, and the category theory content here is very basic -- but it's an easy listen that will give you the fundamental points if you still wonder what this category thing is all about.

To make this a bit more fun for those already in the know: what is totally missing from the talk (understandable given time constraints) is why this should interest the "working hacker". So how about pointing out a few cool uses/ideas that discerning hackers will appreciate? Go for it!

Cakes, Custard, and Category Theory

Eugenia Cheng's new popular coscience book is out, in the U.K. under the title Cakes, Custard and Category Theory: Easy recipes for understanding complex maths, and in the U.S. under the title How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics:

Most people imagine maths is something like a slow cooker: very useful, but pretty limited in what it can do. Maths, though, isn't just a tool for solving a specific problem - and it's definitely not something to be afraid of. Whether you're a maths glutton or have forgotten how long division works (or never really knew in the first place), the chances are you've missed what really makes maths exciting. Calling on a baker's dozen of entertaining, puzzling examples and mathematically illuminating culinary analogies - including chocolate brownies, iterated Battenberg cakes, sandwich sandwiches, Yorkshire puddings and Möbius bagels - brilliant young academic and mathematical crusader Eugenia Cheng is here to tell us why we should all love maths.

From simple numeracy to category theory ('the mathematics of mathematics'), Cheng takes us through the joys of the mathematical world. Packed with recipes, puzzles to surprise and delight even the innumerate, Cake, Custard & Category Theory will whet the appetite of maths whizzes and arithmophobes alike. (Not to mention aspiring cooks: did you know you can use that slow cooker to make clotted cream?) This is maths at its absolute tastiest.

Cheng, one of the Catsters, gives a guided tour of mathematical thinking and research activities, and through the core philosophy underlying category theory. This is the kind of book you can give to your grandma and grandpa so they can boast to their friends what her grandchildren are doing (and bake you a nice dessert when you come and visit :) ). A pleasant weekend reading.

Conservation laws for free!

In this year's POPL, Bob Atkey made a splash by showing how to get from parametricity to conservation laws, via Noether's theorem:

Invariance is of paramount importance in programming languages and in physics. In programming languages, John Reynolds’ theory of relational parametricity demonstrates that parametric polymorphic programs are invariant under change of data representation, a property that yields “free” theorems about programs just from their types. In physics, Emmy Noether showed that if the action of a physical system is invariant under change of coordinates, then the physical system has a conserved quantity: a quantity that remains constant for all time. Knowledge of conserved quantities can reveal deep properties of physical systems. For example, the conservation of energy, which by Noether’s theorem is a consequence of a system’s invariance under time-shifting.

In this paper, we link Reynolds’ relational parametricity with Noether’s theorem for deriving conserved quantities. We propose an extension of System Fω with new kinds, types and term constants for writing programs that describe classical mechanical systems in terms of their Lagrangians. We show, by constructing a relationally parametric model of our extension of Fω, that relational parametricity is enough to satisfy the hypotheses of Noether’s theorem, and so to derive conserved quantities for free, directly from the polymorphic types of Lagrangians expressed in our system.

Seemingly impossible programs

In case this one went under the radar, at POPL'12, Martín Escardó gave a tutorial on seemingly impossible functional programs:

Programming language semantics is typically applied to
prove compiler correctness and allow (manual or automatic) program
verification. Certain kinds of semantics can also be applied to
discover programs that one wouldn't have otherwise thought of. This is
the case, in particular, for semantics that incorporate topological
ingredients (limits, continuity, openness, compactness). For example,
it turns out that some function types (X -> Y) with X infinite (but
compact) do have decidable equality, contradicting perhaps popular
belief, but certainly not (higher-type) computability theory. More
generally, one can often check infinitely many cases in finite time.

I will show you such programs, run them fast in surprising instances,
and introduce the theory behind their derivation and working. In
particular, I will study a single (very high type) program that (i)
optimally plays sequential games of unbounded length, (ii) implements
the Tychonoff Theorem from topology (and builds finite-time search
functions for infinite sets), (iii) realizes the double-negation shift
from proof theory (and allows us to extract programs from classical
proofs that use the axiom of countable choice). There will be several
examples in the languages Haskell and Agda.

A shorter version (coded in Haskell) appears in Andrej Bauer's blog.

Luca Cardelli Festschrift

Earlier this week Microsoft Research Cambridge organised a Festschrift for Luca Cardelli. The preface from the book:

Luca Cardelli has made exceptional contributions to the world of programming
languages and beyond. Throughout his career, he has re-invented himself every
decade or so, while continuing to make true innovations. His achievements span
many areas: software; language design, including experimental languages;
programming language foundations; and the interaction of programming languages
and biology. These achievements form the basis of his lasting scientific leadership
and his wide impact.
...
Luca is always asking "what is new", and is always looking to
the future. Therefore, we have asked authors to produce short pieces that would
indicate where they are today and where they are going. Some of the resulting
pieces are short scientific papers, or abridged versions of longer papers; others are
less technical, with thoughts on the past and ideas for the future. We hope that
they will all interest Luca.

Hopefully the videos will be posted soon.

Dependently-Typed Metaprogramming (in Agda)

Conor McBride gave an 8-lecture summer course on Dependently typed metaprogramming (in Agda) at the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory:

Dependently typed functional programming languages such as Agda are capable of expressing very precise types for data. When those data themselves encode types, we gain a powerful mechanism for abstracting generic operations over carefully circumscribed universes. This course will begin with a rapid depedently-typed programming primer in Agda, then explore techniques for and consequences of universe constructions. Of central importance are the “pattern functors” which determine the node structure of inductive and coinductive datatypes. We shall consider syntactic presentations of these functors (allowing operations as useful as symbolic differentiation), and relate them to the more uniform abstract notion of “container”. We shall expose the double-life containers lead as “interaction structures” describing systems of effects. Later, we step up to functors over universes, acquiring the power of inductive-recursive definitions, and we use that power to build universes of dependent types.

The lecture notes, code, and video captures are available online.

As with his previous course, the notes contain many(!) mind expanding exploratory exercises, some of which quite challenging.

Lightweight Monadic Programming in ML

Lightweight Monadic Programming in ML

Many useful programming constructions can be expressed as monads. Examples include probabilistic modeling, functional reactive programming, parsing, and information flow tracking, not to mention effectful functionality like state and I/O. In this paper, we present a type-based rewriting algorithm to make programming with arbitrary monads as easy as using ML's built-in support for state and I/O. Developers write programs using monadic values of type M t as if they were of type t, and our algorithm inserts the necessary binds, units, and monad-to-monad morphisms so that the program type checks. Our algorithm, based on Jones' qualified types, produces principal types. But principal types are sometimes problematic: the program's semantics could depend on the choice of instantiation when more than one instantiation is valid. In such situations we are able to simplify the types to remove any ambiguity but without adversely affecting typability; thus we can accept strictly more programs. Moreover, we have proved that this simplification is efficient (linear in the number of constraints) and coherent: while our algorithm induces a particular rewriting, all related rewritings will have the same semantics. We have implemented our approach for a core functional language and applied it successfully to simple examples from the domains listed above, which are used as illustrations throughout the paper.

This is an intriguing paper, with an implementation in about 2,000 lines of OCaml. I'm especially interested in its application to probabilistic computing, yielding a result related to Kiselyov and Shan's Hansei effort, but without requiring delimited continuations (not that there's anything wrong with delimited continuations). On a theoretical level, it's nice to see such a compelling example of what can be done once types are freed from the shackle of "describing how bits are laid out in memory" (another such compelling example, IMHO, is type-directed partial evaluation, but that's literally another story).

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