Sunday, June 8, 2014

Do We Really Need to Learn to Code ?

In the May 29th issue of Newsweek, the tech columnist Kevin Maney argued that all this coding reeducation might soon be unnecessary. “Computers are about to get more brainlike and [soon] will understand us on our terms, not theirs,” he wrote. When that happens, “the very nature of programming will shift.” He projects that by 2030 we won’t program at all; we’ll simply tell our machines what we want them to do. Computer programming will be as essential as cursive handwriting.

The Defense Department, for example, has an ambitious project called MUSE (Mining and Understanding Software Enclaves), which aims to “develop radically [new] approaches for automatically constructing and repairing complex software.” If the project succeeds, the project’s director told Maney, “someone who knows nothing about programming languages will be able to program a computer.” It’s a bold goal, but it remains to be seen whether the vision of the self-programming computer will become a reality anytime soon.

We last heard promises like these seven years ago, when one of computer programming’s brightest lights, Charles Simonyi, who spearheaded Microsoft Office, left Microsoft to found a company called Intentional Programming. According to Technology Review, Simonyi’s goal was to develop a system that “would enable programmers to express their intentions without sinking in the mire of so-called implementation details that always threatened to swallow them.” Since then, almost no concrete results have been reported. Computer scientists have been dreaming of automatic computer programming for decades, but outside of very limited domains (like point-and-click interfaces that can be used to develop telecommunication networks) there has been very little sign of tangible progress so far.

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