The most important question a CPU designer must ask himself or herself is, what is the purpose of the CPU? Most people in the business will immediately answer that the purpose of the CPU is to execute sequences of coded instructions. Sorry, this is the wrong answer. This definition is precisely what got us in the mess that we are in. Read full article.
The functional programming language Erlang is rightfully touted by its supporters as being fault-tolerant. COSA shares all the fault tolerance qualities of Erlang but this is where the similarities end. The COSA philosophy is that nothing should fail, period. There are software applications where safety is so critical that not even extreme reliability is good enough. In such cases, unless a program is guaranteed 100% reliable, it must be considered defective and should not be deployed. That's the main goal of project COSA: 100% reliability, guaranteed.
Forget computer languages and keyboards. I have seen the future of computer programming and this is it. The computer industry is on the verge of a new revolution. The old algorithmic software model has reached the end of its usefulness and is about to be replaced; kicking and screaming, if need be. Programming is going parallel and Jeff Han's multi-touch screen interface technology is going to help make it happen. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Han's technology is the perfect interface for the COSA programming model. COSA is about plug-compatible objects connected to other plug-compatible objects. Just drag 'em and drop 'em. What better way is there to compose, manipulate and move objects around than Han's touch screen interface?
According to a recent c/net article, Intel fellow Shekhar Borkar is reported to have said that "software has to double the amount of parallelism that it can support every two years." This is so infuriating. That's not the problem with software. The nastiest problem in the computer industry is not speed but software unreliability. Unreliability imposes an upper limit on the complexity of our systems and keeps development costs high. We could all be riding in self-driving vehicles (and prevent over 40,000 fatal accidents every year in the US alone) right now but concerns over safety, reliability and costs will not allow it. We have been using the same approach to software/hardware construction for close to 150 years, ever since Lady Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm for Babbage's analytical engine. The old ways of doing things don't work so well anymore.
The industry is ripe for a revolution. The market is screaming for it. And what the market wants, the market will get. It is time for a non-algorithmic, synchronous approach. That's what Project COSA is about. Intel would not be complaining about software not being up to par with their soon-to-be obsolete CPUs (ahahaha...) if they would only get off their asses and revolutionize the way we write software and provide revolutionary new CPUS for the new paradigm. Maybe AMD will get the message.
Unreliability imposes an upper limit on the complexity of our software systems. We could conceivably be riding in self-driving vehicles right now but concerns over reliability, safety and high development costs will not allow it. As a result, over 40,000 people die every year in traffic accidents. Something must be done. Unfortunately, the computer industry is still using the same algorithmic computing model that Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace pioneered close to 150 years ago. This would not be so bad except that the algorithmic model is the main reason that software is so unreliable and so hard to develop. It is time to question the wisdom of the gods of computer science and switch to a new computing model, a non-algorithmic, synchronous model. It is time for a new revolution. There is no avoiding it. The market is screaming for it. And what the market wants, the market will get. This is what Project COSA is about.
Having seen first hand the inertia and hostility of the western computer industry and computer science community toward any suggestion that there may be a better way of doing things, I have concluded that the new revolution cannot come from the West. They have placed their computer pioneers on a pedestal and nobody dares question the wisdom of their gods. India and China, on the other hand, don't have that problem. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They have been on the tail end of the first computer revolution from the beginning but now they are in a position to leapfrog the western advantage and become the leader of the second revolution.
Will it be China or India? Or will it be Europe or the US? I am putting my money on either China or India and here is why. The West has become severely handicapped by complacency and conceit. This is largely due to their having been at the forefront of the first computer revolution from the beginning. They are so immersed in and so drunk with the success of their own paradigm, they cannot imagine another paradigm replacing it. They have placed their famous scientists (Alan Turing, Fred Brooks, John von Neumann, etc...) on a pedestal. Nobody dares question the wisdom of the gods for fear of being ridiculed. As a result, nothing really new has emerged in more than half a century of computing. The approach to building computers is still based the old von Neumann architecture which is itself based on the algorithmic software model, a model that is at least 140 years old (Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace). Intel, IBM and AMD and the others are not doing research on truly new cpu architectures. Why should they? They're not in the business of inventing new computing paradigms. They are tool makers. They just produce processors that are optimized as much as possible for the current model. They have no choice but to continue to improve on the old von Neumann model by adding more speed, less energy consumption, more transistors, etc...
I think the West has forced itself into a dangerous situation. The reason is that, while this is going on, the computer industry is suffering terribly from a chronic malady called unreliability. Their own scientists (e.g., Fred Brooks) are convinced that the problem is here to stay. As bad as it already is, the real cost of unreliability goes deeper than it appears on the surface. Consider that over 40,000 people die every year in the US alone as a result of traffic accidents. The solution is obvious: people should not be driving automobiles. That is to say, all vehicles should be self-driving. However, building driverless vehicles is out of the question because concerns over reliability, safety and cost have imposed an upper limit on the complexity of our current software systems. On the military and political front, there is a desperate need to automate the battle field as much as possible in order to minimize human casualties and appease the voters back home.
The western world is thus stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they have a really nasty problem sitting on their lap and it keeps getting worse. On the other hand, they have a bunch of aging gurus with a firm grip on the accepted paradigm, telling them that the problem cannot be fixed. This is where the East may want to capitalize on and profit from the West's self-imposed mental paralysis, in my opinion. What if there were another paradigm that solved the reliability problem at the cost of beheading some of the demi-gods of western computer science? Should the East care? I don't think so. Is it their gods that would be sacrificed? No. Does not the West look down on them as being mere copycats? Yes. Are they not the technological maids hired by the West to cook and do their laundry (outsourcing), so to speak? Yes.
The point of all this is that countries like China and India may have been late jumping on the wagon but there is no longer any reason nor necessity for them to continue riding in somebody else's wagon. They can now afford their own. They don't have to do other people's laundry anymore. This is why I advise the movers and the shakers of the East to take a good look at Project COSA. COSA is the solution to the nasty problem that everyone has been talking about. It's the one solution that the West cannot touch for fear of dirtying their "noble" hands and insulting their gods.
There is a revolution coming, no doubt about it. The market wants it and what the market wants the market will get, by whatever means possible. Who will come out unscathed? Who will cease the opportunity and lead the revolution? The East or the West? Can the West wake up out of its drunken stupor and realize the error of its ways and repent in time? Seriously, I don't think so. I have seen first hand the power and inertia of conservatism. The old guard will not be replaced without a fight. There is too much at stake... unless, of course, the revolution happens in the East. Then they would have to stand up and take notice.
According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, in 2005, over 43,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in the U.S. alone. I don't know what the number is for the entire world but it must be in the six digits. No one can fault software unreliability for those fatalities since human drivers were at fault, but what if I told you that the reason that human beings are driving cars and trucks on the road and killing themselves in the process is that unreliability imposes an upper limit on the complexity of software systems? We could conceivably be riding in self-driving vehicles right now but concerns over safety and reliability will not allow it. In addition, the cost of developing safety-critical software rises exponentially with the level of complexity. The reason is that complex software is much harder to test and debug.
What will it take to convince the computer industry to change over to a new paradigm that will make it possible to automate all vehicles? What will it take to convince software developers that complexity no longer has to be an enemy but can and should be a trusted friend? What will it take to convince them that there is a way to build bug-free software of arbitrary complexity? What will it take? Are 43,000 dead men, women and children not enough?
In my opinion, most of the funds allocated for traffic research by the U.S. Department of Transportation should be used to find a solution to the software reliability crisis. Why? Because the solution would save lives. Are you listening, Secretary Peters?
The Hidden Nature of Computing
The biggest problem with the universal Turing machine (UTM) is not so much that it cannot be adapted to certain real-world parallel applications but that it hides the true nature of computing. Most students of computer science will recognize that a computer program is, in reality, a behaving machine (BM). That is to say, a program is an automaton that detects changes in its environment and effects changes in it. As such, it belongs in the same class of machines as biological nervous systems and integrated circuits. A basic universal behaving machine (UBM) consists, on the one hand, of a couple of elementary behaving entities (a sensor and an effector) or actors and, on the other, of an environment (a variable).
More complex UBMs consist of arbitrarily large numbers of actors and environmental variables. This computing model, which I have dubbed the behavioral computing model (BCM), is a radical departure from the Turing computing model (TCM). Whereas a UTM is primarily a calculation tool for solving algorithmic problems, a UBM is simply an agent that reacts to one or more environmental stimuli. As seen in the figure below, in order for a UBM to act on and react to its environment, sensors and effectors must be able to communicate with each other.
The main point of this argument is that, even though communication is an essential part of the nature of computing, this is not readily apparent from examining a UTM. Indeed, there are no signaling entities, no signals and no signal pathways on a Turing tape or in computer memory. The reason is that, unlike hardware objects which are directly observable, software entities are virtual and must be logically inferred.
Unfortunately for the world, it did not occur to early computer scientists that a program is, at its core, a tightly integrated collection of communicating entities interacting with each other and with their environment. As a result, the computer industry had no choice but to embrace a method of software construction that sees the computer simply as a tool for the execution of instruction sequences. The problem with this approach is that it forces the programmer to explicitly identify and resolve a number of critical communication-related issues that, ideally, should have been implicitly and automatically handled at the system level. The TCM is now so ingrained in the collective mind of the software engineering community that most programmers do not even recognize these issues as having anything to do with either communication or behavior. This would not be such a bad thing except that a programmer cannot possibly be relied upon to resolve all the dependencies of a complex software application during a normal development cycle. Worse, given the inherently messy nature of algorithmic software, there is no guarantee that they can be completely resolved. This is true even if one had an unlimited amount of time to work on it. The end result is that software applications become less predictable and less stable as their complexity increases.
The secret of constructing reliable software is not rocket science. The secret is in the timing. Nothing must be allowed to happen before or after its time. If you could control the timing of events in a software system in such a way that the system's complex temporal behavior becomes thoroughly predictable, you could, as a result, construct a software sentinel that would automate the job of the discovering and enforcing the temporal laws that govern the system's behavior. Additions and/or modifications to the system are not allowed to break the exisiting timing protocols thereby insuring solid consistency. The beauty of this is that it makes it possible to create software programs of arbitrary complexity without incurring the usual penalties of unreliability and high development costs. This simple and beautiful secret will usher in the golden age of automation. This is the promise of Project COSA.
Paul Feyerabend, the foremost science critic of the last century, once wrote in his book 'Against Method' that "the most stupid procedures and the most laughable results in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence. It is time to cut them down in size, and to give them a more modest position in society." Feyerabend was speaking of scientists in general but he may as well have been talking about the new "science" of quantum computing. Quantum computing is based on the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. The idea is that the states of certain quantum properties, such as the spin of a particle, are superposed, meaning that a quantum property can have multiple states simultaneously. The blatantly ridiculous nature of this belief has not stopped an entire research industry from sprouting everywhere in the academic community. Read the rest of the article.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we create software. Contrary to conventional wisdom, unreliability is not an essential characteristic of complex software programs. In this article (see link below), I propose a silver bullet solution to the software reliability and productivity crisis. The solution will require a radical change in the way we program our computers. I argue that the main reason that software is so unreliable and so hard to develop has to do with a custom that is as old as the computer: the practice of using the algorithm as the basis of software construction. I argue further that moving to a signal-based, synchronous software model will not only result in an improvement of several orders of magnitude in productivity, but also in programs that are guaranteed free of defects, regardless of their complexity.