Re: Exponential advancement of software

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Wed Sep 18 2002 - 00:46:38 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> I have been thinking about this issue some more.
> The advancement of software seems to be oddly spotty, actually.
> Some software types, like word processors and general-purpose programming
> languages, do seem to advance slowly. Some technologies generally seem to
> plateau -- and word processors seem to have plateaued in the same sense
> that, say, chairs and tables have. Yeah, there are new chairs, better
> ergonomic chairs, etc. -- but no amazing new advances in chairdom for quite
> some time....

Well, I have a well-known and perhaps too often stated
disagreement with your contention about general purpose
programming languages. The most populat languages today
actually are deficient in many features present a decade or more
ago in less popular and arguably "higher level" languages. Some
features are a bit more developed but many are, imo, retrograde.

I also believe that the entire form of software today is overdue
for an overhaul. For 18 years now I have been expecting
software to evolve away from a file-based and application-based
set of assumptions entirely. I expect more of a "cloud of
objects and capabilities" environment where the work to be done
occurs by the relevant components being more or less
transparently assembled, managed, evolved, disassembled in
conjunction with many other types of simultaneous work some of
the components may or may not be involved in. The exact
location of any of these components on the network or whether it
is in this or that type of memory (in-menory or on disk in old
thinking for instance) is not relevant except to low-level,
mostly automated parts of the environmental infrastructure that
can monitor and adjust such details based on the work needed.
Data-only "objects" are also much more fluid in this sort of

.NET and Java give some parts of this but they have other
unnecessary restrictions.

I am also waiting for (and should be developing) tools that work
better with extending, storing, mining, sharing the experiences,
thoughts, works, communications of individuals and groups -
tools that truly are mind extensions. Many things have been
talked about and written about. But few have actually been
build. Some of them, like LifeStreams, seem to be tied up in IP

> On the other hand, I've been working with Maple a fair bit lately, and
> there's no doubt in my mind that mathematical software has advanced
> exponentially. I remember using tools like Derive back in the 80's -- they
> could graph simple 1-D function and do some very simple equation-solving.
> Comparatively, modern tools like Maple, Mathematica and MATLAB are just
> incredible.

I remember the old Macsyma from around 1979 or so. It was very
powerful but nowhere near as friedly and powerful as tools like
Mathematica today. Now, if I could just reuse all the
components of those tools in other ways at will as part of her
problems and solution spaces, I would be much happier.

> The same could be said for graphic software such as Photoshop & Flash ...
> that stuff has come a LONG way..
> I imagine that if one analyzed the progress of software in detail, one would
> find that, as with hardware, some subdomains have exponentially advanced and
> some have stagnated. Comparing "software progress" generally with "computer
> hardware progress" is not a great comparison, because software is a huge
> diverse universe, whereas computer hardware is a narrower set of
> technologies, within the larger domain of all hardware (some aspects of
> which have advanced rapidly, others not).

This is true. Open Source / Free Software has also come a long
way and is imo significantly advancing the general level of
tools and skills present in the software world.

- samantha

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