Assignment Versus Equality

Rustom Mody rustompmody at gmail.com
Tue Jun 28 01:00:29 EDT 2016


On Monday, June 27, 2016 at 8:19:05 PM UTC+5:30, Alain Ketterlin wrote:
> Grant Edwards writes:
> > Did the poor sod who wrote the compiler think it was a good idea?
> 
> I don't know, but he has a good excuse: he was one of the first to ever
> write a compiler (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compiler, the
> section on History).
> 
> You just called John Backus a "poor sod". Think again.

The irony is bigger than you are conveying
1957: Backus made Fortran
20 years later: [1977] He won the Turing award, citation explicitly mentioning
his creation of Fortran.
His Turing award lecture 
makes a demand for an alternative functional language (first usage of FP that 
I know) and lambasts traditional imperative programming language.
http://worrydream.com/refs/Backus-CanProgrammingBeLiberated.pdf

However in addition to lambasting current languages in general he owns up to 
his own contribution to the imperative-programming-goofup:

| I refer to conventional languages as "von Neumann languages" to take note of 
| their origin and style, I do not, of course, blame the great mathematician for
| their complexity. In fact, some might say that I bear some responsibility for 
| that problem.

I conjecture that it was Backus' clarion call to think more broadly about
paradigms and not merely about syntax details that prompted the next Turing
talk: Floyd's title (1978) *is* Paradigms of Programming though he did not use 
the word quite as we do today

Likewise Backus' call to dump the imperative 'word-at-a-time' model and look
to APL to inspiration probably made it possible for an outlier like Iverson to
win the Turing award in 79

All these taken together have inched CS slowly away from the imperative paradigm:
This and other titbits of history: http://blog.languager.org/2015/04/cs-history-1.html

In short for someone in 2016 to laugh at Backus for 1957 mistakes that he had
already realized and crossed over in 1977, and yet continue to use the 
imperative paradigm ie the 57-mistake... well the joke is in the opposite direction


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