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What I changed my mind about in 2008

January 4th, 2009

A few years ago The Edge asked people to write about what important issue(s) they had recently changed their mind about. This is an interesting question and something people ought to ask themselves every now and again. So what did I change my mind about in 2008?

1. Formal verification of nontrivial C programs is a very long way off. A whole host of interesting projects (e.g., Caduceus, Comcert and Frame-C) going on in France has finally convinced me that things are a lot closer than I once thought. This does not mean that I think developers/managers will be willing to use them, only that they exist.

2. Automatically extracting useful information from source code identifier names is still a long way off. Yes, I am a great believer in the significance of information contained in identifier names. Perhaps because I have studied the issues in detail I know too much about the problems and have been put off attacking them. A number of researchers (e.g., Emily Hill, David Shepherd, Adrian Marcus, Lin Tan and a previously blogged about project) have simply gone ahead and managed to extract (with varying amount of human intervention) surprising amounts of useful from identifier names.

3. Theoretical analysis of non-trivial floating-point oriented programs is still a long way off. Daumas and Lester used the Doobs-Kolmogorov Inequality (I had to look it up) to deduce the probability that the rounding error in some number of floating-point operations, within a program, will exceed some bound. They also integrated the ideas into NASA’s PVS system.

You can probably spot the pattern here, I thought something would not happen for years and somebody went off and did it (or at least made an impressive first step along the road). Perhaps 2008 was not a good year for really major changes of mind, or perhaps an earlier in the year change of mind has so ingrained itself in my mind that I can no longer recall thinking otherwise.

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