On 22 February 2011 02:29, Guzdial, Mark <guzd...@cc.gatech.edu> wrote:
> Sherry Turkle's new book "Alone Together" raises an important point that is 
> missing
> from this discussion.  Programming languages can't saying anything 
> *important* from
> a human perspective.

I disagree strongly, and think this is a misunderstanding which is
based on what programming languages are most often used for, not what
that can be used for.  Here's a quote from another mailing list:

  “Having done a little bit of reading in Software Studies, I was
surprised by just how many claims are invalidated with a single simple
example of livecoding.”

Live coders make music with programming languages.  Are you saying
that you can't say anything important with music?  Cohen's AARON is
another example:


Are you saying that you can't say anything important with paint on canvas?

Of course you can.  You can communicate very important, very analog,
very human things with music and paintings.  You can certainly
symbolise 'I love you', and what's more you can say it in a *much*
more meaningful way than you can just by mouthing those three words.
Indeed you *can't* describe a piece of music or a painting in English
as well as you can with code.

> The most important things that humans can say to one another are: "I'm sorry. 
> Thank you.
> I forgive you. I love you."  None of those can be stated in any programming 
> language,
> because programming languages are about specifying action, not reflecting the 
> shared
> human condition, and that's the most important activity for any human 
> language.

There's something funny about this argument, because all of these
phrases are performative, and therefore specify action.

> Alex's suggestion that we can layer a model and lexicon on top of a 
> programming
> language is addressing the critical questions of AI: *CAN* we describe the 
> human
> condition via the limited mechanisms of a computer?

No, but we can strive to do it.  I'd say the same is true of natural
language, every language has its own practical constraints.

> It's a great question, but raising it is not the same as saying that 
> programming languages
> are in any way equivalent to human languages.
> Take any powerful, meaningful phrase in any human language, from "Veni, vidi, 
> vici"
> to "I have a dream" -- none of them can be said with the same nuance, the same
> elegance, and the same meaning in any programming language.

Indeed, but the same can be said of expressions of the infinite, self
similarity, combinatorial explosion, analog/digital conversion,
movement, comparison etc in natural language.

Here are some elegant and poetic translations of the phrase "draw a
straight line and follow it":

The strange thing about writing code is that experience of it is
generally mediated by a electronic digital computer, interpreting it
and visualising, sonifying or otherwise actuating the results.  That
doesn't mean it isn't a language, perhaps it means its a
meta-language.  But still, it's a means of communicating human
experience within discrete symbols according to a grammar.

> Computer programming languages are not languages in any way that is important 
> or meaningful.

I can't disagree more.


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