multi-core software

Scott Burson FSet.SLB at
Fri Jun 5 23:24:26 CEST 2009

On Jun 4, 9:46 am, Xah Lee <xah... at> wrote:
> Of interest:
> • Why Must Software Be Rewritten For Multi-Core Processors?
> plain text version follows.
> --------------------------------------------------
> Why Must Software Be Rewritten For Multi-Core Processors?
> Xah Lee, 2009-06-04
> I had a revelation today, namely, that it is necessary to rewrite
> software to use multi-processor in order to benefit from it.
> This may sound stupid, but is a revelation to me. For the past decade,
> the question has been on my mind, about why should software needs to
> be rewritten to take advantage of multi-processors. Because, in my
> mind, i thought that software are at some fundamental level just
> algorithms, and algorithms, have nothing to do with hardware
> implementation aspects such as number of processors. I always felt,
> that those talks about the need or difficulty of rewriting software
> for multi-processor (or multi-core these days) must be the product of
> idiocy of industrial imperative coding monkies. In particular, some
> languages such as java, the way they deal with it, seems to me
> extremely stupid. e.g. the concept of threads. In my mind, there
> should be a layer between the software and the hardware, such as the
> operating system, or the compiler, that should be able to
> automatically handle or compile the software so that it FULLY use the
> multi-processors when present. In short, i thought that a algorithm
> really has nothing to do with hardware details.
> I never really thought hard about this issue, but today, since i got a
> quad-core PC, so i looked into the issue, and thought about it, and i
> realized the answer. The gist is that, algorithm, fundamentally means
> manipulating some hardware, in fact, algorithm is a step by step
> instruction about some form of hardware, even the hardware may be
> abstract or virtual. For example, let's say the simplest case of 1+1.
> It is a algorithm, but where is the hardware? You may say it's
> abstract concept, or it being a mathematical model. What you call 1+1
> depends on the context, but in our context, those numbers are the
> hardware. To see this, lets say more complex example of listing primes
> by sieve. Again, it comes down to “what is a number”? Here, numbers
> can be stones, or arrangement of beads on abacus, it's hardware! As
> another example, say sorting. To begin with, you have to have some
> something to sort, that's hardware.
> Another way to see this is that, for a given computing problem, there
> are infinite number of algorithms to achieve the same thing. Some,
> will be better ones, requiring less steps, or requiring less storage.
> All these are concrete manipulation issues, and the thing being
> manipulated, ultimately we have to call it hardware. So, when hardware
> changes, say from one cpu to multi-cpu, there's no way for the
> algorithm to magically change and adopt the changed hardware. If you
> need a algorithm that is catered to the new hardware, you need a new
> algorithm.
> One might think that there might be algorithm Omega, such that it
> takes input of old hardware O, new hardware N, and a algorithm A, and
> output a algorithm B, such that B has the same behavior as A, but N+B
> performs better than O+A. This is like asking for Strong AI.
> One thing we often forgot is that algorithms ultimately translates to
> manipulating hardware. In a modern digital computer, that means
> software algorithms ultimately becomes machine instructions in CPU,
> which manipulate the 1s and 0s in register, or electricity voltage in
> transisters.
> In a more mundane point of view, a automatic system for software to
> work on multi-processors is a problem of breaking a problem into
> discrete units (so that they can be computed in parallel). The problem
> of finding a algorithm is entirely different from the problem of
> breaking a problem into distinct units. The problem of breaking a
> problem into distinct units is a entire new branch of mathematics. For
> example, let's say factoring. Factoring is a well defined mathematical
> problem. There are millions algorithms to do it, each class has
> different properties such as number of steps or storage units.
> However, if we look at these algorithms from the point of view of
> distinct units, it's a new perspective on classification of
> algorithms. Software are in general too ill-defined and fuzzy and
> complex, the software we use on personal computers such as email,
> browsers, games, don't even have mathematical models. They don't even
> have mathematical models of their inputs and outputs. To talk about
> automatic system of unitizing software, would be more like a AI
> fantasy. Roughly, a term that describes this aspect of research is
> Parallel computing.
> In the Wikipedia article, it talks about types of parallelism: Bit-
> level parallelism, Instruction-level parallelism, Data parallelism,
> Task parallelism. Then it also discusses hardware aspects classes:
> multicore, symmetric multiprocessing, distributed computing, cluster,
> grid. The subjects mentioned there more close to this essay are “data
> parallelism” and “task parallelism”. However, neither are high level
> enough as i discussed here. The issue discussed here would be like
> “algorithmic parallelism”. Indeed, Wikipedia mentioned “Automatic
> parallelization”, which is exactly what i'm talking about here. Quote:
>     Automatic parallelization of a sequential program by a compiler is
> the holy grail of parallel computing. Despite decades of work by
> compiler researchers, automatic parallelization has had only limited
> success.[40]
>     Mainstream parallel programming languages remain either explicitly
> parallel or (at best) partially implicit, in which a programmer gives
> the compiler directives for parallelization. A few fully implicit
> parallel programming languages exist — SISAL, Parallel Haskell, and
> (for FPGAs) Mitrion-C.
> It says “A few fully implicit parallel programming languages exist”.
> If you are a comp lang nutcase, don't get carried away by what those
> words might seem to mean.
> (Note: Wikipedia has a dedicated article on the subject: Automatic
> parallelization)
>   Xah

More information about the Python-list mailing list