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People keep inventing new programming languages. What is programming,
and how can the design of a programming language help or hinder that
process? We have learned a lot over the last five decades: principles,
conventions, theory, fashions, and fads. “Those who cannot remember
the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In this antiphonal multimedia presentation, we survey numerous
design features and important lessons from the past that future
programmers— and future programming language designers— ought not
forget. We illustrate each lesson by discussing specific programming
languages of the past, and endeavor to shine what light we can on the
Guy L. Steele Jr. is a Software Architect at Oracle. He
received his A.B. in applied mathematics from Harvard College (1975),
and his S.M. and Ph.D. in computer science and artificial intelligence
from M.I.T. (1977 and 1980). He has also been an assistant professor
of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon University; a member of
technical staff at Tartan Laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
and a senior scientist at Thinking Machines Corporation in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. He joined Sun Microsystems in 1994 as a Distinguished
Engineer and was named a Sun Fellow in 2003. Sun Microsystems was
acquired by Oracle in 2010, and he is now a member of Oracle Labs.
He is author or co-author of five books: Common Lisp: The Language
(Digital Press, first ed. 1984, second ed. 1990); C: A Reference
Manual (Prentice-Hall, first ed. 1984, fourth ed. 1995); The Hacker’s
Dictionary (Harper&Row, 1983), which has been revised as The New
Hacker’s Dictionary, edited by Eric Raymond with introduction and
illustrations by Guy Steele (MIT Press, first ed. 1992, third ed.
1996); The High Performance Fortran Handbook (MIT Press, 1994); and
The Java Language Specification (Addison-Wesley, first ed. 1996,
second ed. 2000, third ed. 2005). All are still in print. He has
been praised for an especially clear and thorough writing style in
explaining the details of programming languages.
He has published more than two dozen papers on the subject of the Lisp
language and Lisp implementation, including a series with Gerald Jay
Sussman that defined the Scheme dialect of Lisp. One of these,
“Multiprocessing Compactifying Garbage Collection,” won first place in the
ACM 1975 George E. Forsythe Student Paper Competition. Other papers
published in CACM are “Design of a LISP-Based Microprocessor” with Gerald
Jay Sussman (November 1980) and “Data Parallel Algorithms” with W. Daniel
Hillis (December 1986). He has also published papers on other subjects,
including compilers, parallel processing, and constraint languages.
One song he composed has been published in CACM (“The Telnet Song”,
The Association for Computing Machinery awarded him the 1988 Grace Murray
Hopper Award and named him an ACM Fellow in 1994. He was elected a Fellow
of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence in 1990. He led
the team that received a 1990 Gordon Bell Prize honorable mention for
achieving the fastest speed to that date for a production application:
14.182 Gigaflops. He was also awarded the 1996 ACM SIGPLAN Programming
Languages Achievement Award. In 2001 he was elected to the National
Academy of Engineering of the United States of America. In 2002 he was
elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2011 he was
named an IEEE Fellow.
He has served on accredited standards committees X3J11 (C language)
and X3J3 (Fortran), and served as chairman of X3J13 (Common Lisp).
He was also a member of the IEEE committee that produced the IEEE
Standard for the Scheme Programming Language, IEEE Std 1178-1990.
He was a representative to the High Performance Fortran Forum,
which produced the High Performance Fortran specification in May, 1993.
He has had chess problems published in Chess Life and Review and is a
Life Member of the United States Chess Federation. He has sung in the
bass section of the MIT Choral Society (John Oliver, conductor) and
the Masterworks Chorale (Allen Lannom, conductor) as well as in
choruses with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Great Woods
(Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor) and with the Boston Concert Opera
(David Stockton, conductor). He has played the role of Lun Tha in
The King and I and the title role in Li’l Abner. He is a member
of Tech Squares, the Plus-level Modern Western Square Dance club at
MIT. He designed the original EMACS command set and was the first
person to port TeX.
At Oracle labs, he is responsible for research in language design
and implementation strategies, and architectural and software support
for programming languages. His recent work at Sun has included network
design for processor clusters, circuit designs for floating-point
arithmetic and interval arithmetic, and proposals for improvements to
the Java Programming Language such as generic types, operator
overloading, and constant classes. Currently he is Principal
Investigator of the Oracle Labs Programming Languages Research Group,
which is working on Fortress, a next-generation programming language
for scientific and multicore computing.
Richard P. Gabriel is a researcher at IBM Research, looking into the architecture, design, and implementation of extraordinarily large, self-sustaining systems. He is the award-winning author of four books and a poetry chapbook. He lives in California.
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