Google Brain's Jax and Flax

Google's AI division, Google Brain, has two main products for deep learning: TensorFlow and Jax. While TensorFlow is best known, Jax can be thought of as a higher-level language for specifying deep learning algorithms while automatically eliding code that doesn't need to run as part of the model.

Jax evolved from Autograd, and is a combination of Autograd and XLA. Autograd "can automatically differentiate native Python and Numpy code. It can handle a large subset of Python's features, including loops, ifs, recursion and closures, and it can even take derivatives of derivatives of derivatives. It supports reverse-mode differentiation (a.k.a. backpropagation), which means it can efficiently take gradients of scalar-valued functions with respect to array-valued arguments, as well as forward-mode differentiation, and the two can be composed arbitrarily. The main intended application of Autograd is gradient-based optimization."

Flax is then built on top of Jax, and allows for easier customization of existing models.

What do you see as the future of domain specific languages for AI?

Applications of Blockchain to Programming Language Theory

Let's talk about Blockchain. Goal is to use this forum topic to highlight its usefulness to programming language theory and practice. If you're familiar with existing research efforts, please share them here. In addition, feel free to generate ideas for how Blockchain could improve languages and developer productivity.

As one tasty example: Blockchain helps to formalize thinking about mutual knowledge and common knowledge, and potentially think about sharing intergalactic computing power through vast distributed computing fabrics. If we can design contracts in such a way that maximizes the usage of mutual knowledge while minimizing common knowledge to situations where you have to "prove your collateral", third-party transactions could eliminate a lot of back office burden. But, there might be benefits in other areas of computer science from such research, as well.

Some language researchers, like Mark S. Miller, have always dreamed of Agoric and the Decades-Long Quest for Secure Smart Contracts.

Some may also be aware that verification of smart contracts is an important research area, because of the notorious theft of purse via logic bug in an Ethereum smart contract.

Tensor Considered Harmful

Tensor Considered Harmful, by Alexander Rush

TL;DR: Despite its ubiquity in deep learning, Tensor is broken. It forces bad habits such as exposing private dimensions, broadcasting based on absolute position, and keeping type information in documentation. This post presents a proof-of-concept of an alternative approach, named tensors, with named dimensions. This change eliminates the need for indexing, dim arguments, einsum- style unpacking, and documentation-based coding. The prototype PyTorch library accompanying this blog post is available as namedtensor.

Thanks to Edward Z. Yang for pointing me to this "Considered Harmful" position paper.

Selective Functors

From Andrey Mokhov's twitter feed:

Is there any intermediate abstraction between applicative functors and monads? And if yes, what is it? In a new paper with @geo2A, @simonmar and @dimenix we explore "selective functors", which are essentially applicative functors with branching:

We've implemented selective functors in Haskell:, OCaml:, and even Coq: (the Coq repository contains some proofs of correctness that our selective instances are lawful). And there is also a PureScript fork!

Safe Dynamic Memory Management in Ada and SPARK

Safe Dynamic Memory Management in Ada and SPARK by Maroua Maalej, Tucker Taft, Yannick Moy:

Handling memory in a correct and efficient way is a step toward safer, less complex, and higher performing software-intensive systems. However, languages used for critical software development such as Ada, which supports formal verification with its SPARK subset, face challenges regarding any use of pointers due to potential pointer aliasing. In this work, we introduce an extension to the Ada language, and to its SPARK subset, to provide pointer types (“access types” in Ada) that provide provably safe, automatic storage management without any asynchronous garbage collection, and without explicit deallocation by the user. Because the mechanism for these safe pointers relies on strict control of aliasing, it can be used in the SPARK subset for formal verification, including both information flow analysis and proof of safety and correctness properties. In this paper, we present this proposal (which has been submitted for inclusion in the next version of Ada), and explain how we are able to incorporate these pointers into formal analyses

For the systems programmers among you, you might be interested in some new developments in Ada where they propose to add ownership types to Ada's pointer/access types, to improve the flexibility of the programs that can be written and whose safety can be automatically verified. The automated satisfiability of these safety properties is a key goal of the SPARK Ada subset.

"C Is Not a Low-level Language"

David Chisnall, "C Is Not a Low-level Language. Your computer is not a fast PDP-11.", ACM Queue, Volume 16, issue 2.

"For a language to be "close to the metal," it must provide an abstract machine that maps easily to the abstractions exposed by the target platform. It's easy to argue that C was a low-level language for the PDP-11.
it is possible to make C code run quickly but only by spending thousands of person-years building a sufficiently smart compiler—and even then, only if you violate some of the language rules. Compiler writers let C programmers pretend that they are writing code that is "close to the metal" but must then generate machine code that has very different behavior if they want C programmers to keep believing that they are using a fast language."

Includes a discussion of various ways in which modern processors break the C abstract machine, as well as some interesting speculation on what a "non-C processor" might look like. The latter leads to thinking about what a low-level language for such a processor should look like.

Compiling a Subset of APL Into a Typed Intermediate Language

Compiling a Subset of APL Into a Typed Intermediate Language

by Martin Elsman, Martin Dybdal

Traditionally, APL is an interpreted language ... In this paper, we present a compiler that compiles a subset of APL into a typed intermediate representation, which should serve as a practical and well-defined intermediate format for targeting parallel-architectures through a large number of existing tools and frameworks. The intermediate language is conceptually close to the language Repa. It supports shape-polymorphic functions and types that classify shapes. The compiler takes a simplified approach to certain aspects of APL. Following other APL compilation approaches, the compiler is based on lexical (i.e., static) identifier scoping and has no support for dynamic compilation (APL execute).
Terseness of APL is legendary, for good or bad. I keep finding more and more papers by Haskell community (and especially GHC contributors) working on efficient (parallel) arrays in Haskell.

Exploiting Vector Instructions with Generalized Stream Fusion

Exploiting Vector Instructions with Generalized Stream Fusion

By Geoffrey Mainland, Roman Leshchinskiy, and Simon Peyton Jones.

A.k.a. "Haskell beats C".
Our ideas are implemented in modified versions of the GHC compiler and vector library. Benchmarks show that high-level Haskell code written using our compiler and libraries can produce code that is faster than both compiler- and hand-vectorized C.

This paper continues the promising line of research started in 1990 by Wadler (at least, that was how I learned of deforestation). Of course, there was a lot of development since then, but this specific paper introduces an interesting idea of multiple representations - potentially changing the game.

Implementing Algebraic Effects in C

Implementing Algebraic Effects in C by Daan Leijen:

We describe a full implementation of algebraic effects and handlers as a library in standard and portable C99, where effect operations can be used just like regular C functions. We use a formal operational semantics to guide the C implementation at every step where an evaluation context corresponds directly to a particular C execution context. Finally we show a novel extension to the formal semantics to describe optimized tail resumptions and prove that the extension is sound. This gives two orders of magnitude improvement to the performance of tail resumptive operations (up to about 150 million operations per second on a Core i7@2.6GHz)

Another great paper by Daan Leijen, this time on a C library with immediate practical applications at Microsoft. The applicability is much wider though, since it's an ordinary C library for defining and using arbitrary algebraic effects. It looks pretty usable and is faster and more general than most of the C coroutine libraries that already exist.

It's a nice addition to your toolbox for creating language runtimes in C, particularly since it provides a unified, structured way of creating and handling a variety of sophisticated language behaviours, like async/await, in ordinary C with good performance. There has been considerable discussion here of C and low-level languages with green threads, coroutines and so on, so hopefully others will find this useful!

Simon Peyton Jones elected into the Royal Society Fellowship

Simon Peyton Jones has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. The Royal Society biography reads:

Simon's main research interest is in functional programming languages, their implementation, and their application. He was a key contributor to the design of the now-standard functional language Haskell, and is the lead designer of the widely-used Glasgow Haskell Compiler (GHC). He has written two textbooks about the implementation of functional languages.

More generally, Simon is interested in language design, rich type systems, compiler technology, code generation, runtime systems, virtual machines, and garbage collection. He is particularly motivated by direct use of principled theory to practical language design and implementation -- that is one reason he loves functional programming so much.

Simon is also chair of Computing at School, the grass-roots organisation that was at the epicentre of the 2014 reform of the English computing curriculum.

Congratulations SPJ!

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