The Recruitment Theory of Language Origins

Leo Meyerovich recently started a thread on LtU asking about Historical or sociological studies of programming language evolution?. I've been meaning to post a paper on this topic to LtU for awhile now, but simply cherrypicking for the opportune time to fit it into forum discussion. With Leo's question at hand, I give you an interesting paper that models language evolution, by artificial intelligence researcher Luc Steels. Steels has spent over 10 years researching this area, and his recent paper, The Recruitment Theory of Language Origins, summarizes one of his models for dealing with language evolution:

The recruitment theory of language origins argues that language users recruit and try out different strategies for solving the task of communication and retain those that maximise communicative success and cognitive economy. Each strategy requires specific cognitive neural mechanisms, which in themselves serve a wide range of purposes and therefore may have evolved or could be learned independently of language. The application of a strategy has an impact on the properties of the emergent language and this fixates the use of the strategy in the population. Although neurological evidence can be used to show that certain cognitive neural mechanisms are common to linguistic and non-linguistic tasks, this only shows that recruitment has happened, not why. To show the latter, we need models demonstrating that the recruitment of a particular strategy and hence the mechanisms to carry out this strategy lead to a better communication system. This paper gives concrete examples how such models can be built and shows the kinds of results that can be expected from them.

The year in review, and What's to come

Naturally in this day and age, the path to understanding the past and future goes through twitter.

Now here is the challenge, in order to make this more exciting: What we really need is a statistical analysis of the #code2009 and #code2010 streams (and in particular, their differences). The goal is to post code that does this analysis in the most elegant and succinct way; naturally using the langues du jour earns bonus points.

Holiday Fun: How Programming Language Fanboys See Each Others’ Languages

Perhaps I am a bit dense, but I find this only mildly amusing, not ROFL material. Still, it is amusing enough to share at this time of year.

Happy holidays!

Perl Cannot Be Parsed: A Formal Proof

Perl Cannot Be Parsed: A Formal Proof via Perl Monks.

Elegantly proved via reduction to (from?) the Halting Problem.

Apollo 11 Source Code on GoogleCode

A blog post announces that some of the source code for the Apollo 11 spacecraft has been put online.

On this day 40 years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. This was quite an achievement for mankind and a key milestone in world history.

To commemorate this event the Command Module code (Comanche054) and Lunar Module code (Luminary099) have been transcribed from scanned images to run on yaAGC (an open source AGC emulator) by the Virtual AGC and AGS project.

Since we LTUers spend a lot of time talking about the highest of the high level languages it's illuminating to see how much was done with so little. The source also shows that flying to the moon is really not that different from the kind of programming most programmers do every day. Note the comments.

# Page 801
		CAF	TWO		# WCHPHASE = 2 ---> VERTICAL: P65,P66,P67

Phosphorous, The Popular Lisp

Joseph F. Miklojcik III, Phosphorous, The Popular Lisp.

We present Phosphorous; a programming language that draws on the power and elegance of traditional Lisps such as Common Lisp and Scheme, yet which brings those languages into the 21st century by ruthless application of our “popular is better” philosophy into all possible areas of programming language design.

Introduces the concept of the Gosling Tarpit, and presents a novel method for having both a broken lexical scope (needed for popularity) and maintaining one's reputation as a language designer.

(via Chris Neukirchen)

Oh no! Animated Alligators!

Lambda calculus as animated alligators and eggs. Virtually guaranteed to turn any 4 year old into a PLT geek.

The non-animated game was mentioned previously on LTU here.

A Brief, Incomplete ... History of Programming Languages

LtU Contributing Editor James Iry has written a brief history covering every prominent programming language and inventor:

A Brief, Incomplete ... History of Programming Languages

However, some of the details seem open to question. Perhaps LtU readers could help him iron out any historical inaccuracies.


For some inexplicable reason COBOL doesn't get much love from LtU. But COBOL turns 50 some time this year and we owe a tip of the hat to this venerable language behind so many large institutions.

The Guardian understands.

According to Michael Coughlan, a lecturer at the University of Limerick, one of Cobol's perceived drawbacks is its verbosity. But he reckons that's also one of its strengths. "It's not just a write-only language," he says. "You can come back years later and understand the code."

This opinion is shared by Mike Gilpin, of Forrester, who is an ex-Cobol programmer. "Cobol is one of the few languages written in the last 50 years that's readable and understandable," he says. And he's scathing about the readability of more fashionable languages, such as PHP and Java: "Modern programming languages are ridiculously hard to understand."

There you have it! More readable than PHP and Java. A ringing endorsement for the next half century.

A Computer-Generated Proof that P=NP

Doron Zeilberger announced yesterday that he has proven that P=NP.

Using 3000 hours of CPU time on a CRAY machine, we settle the notorious P vs. NP problem in the affirmative, by presenting a “polynomial” time algorithm for the NP-complete subset sum problem.

The paper is available here and his 98th Opinion is offered as commentary.

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