29 Jun 2005 pfdietz   » (Master)

A few thoughts on ILC 2005

Overall it was an enjoyable conference. There were some good papers, some duds, and some controversy. It was very good to see and talk to people who I knew only by name. Attendance appeared to be up from ILC 2003. ALU is in no danger of dying, with a nice surplus.

My talk went ok, but I (as always) underestimated how much time it would take, and how many questions I would get. Fortunately, I had designed the talk so the last part was optional, so I omitted it. I got positive comments, and William Clinger (who gave an interesting talk on Common Larceny, a Scheme-on-CLR implementation) liked it.

Moore's presentation on ACL2 was a big hit, and (unlike many of the other invited speakers) he actually submitted a full paper for the proceedings. I'm particularly gratified by ACL2 because its standard delivery platform is GCL (although it does run on other lisps, it gets its best performance on GCL.)

Now, about those last three presentations. A lot's already been said in other blogs, so I'll try not to repeat things I agree with.

Two presenters (Baker and McCarthy) complained about standardization. I wonder if the complaint isn't that standardization made it more difficult to get grants for new lisp implementations. Didn't the CMU CL effort have their funding dry up around the time the standard was being finalized?

Integration with CLR seems pointless if Common Lisp has to change too much. Move the language too much and one loses the community and software infrastructure behind it. One might as well start over and not call it Lisp.

The desire for a statically typed Common Lisp came up. But don't we already have this? Lisps can and do perform type inference. Many lisps propagate types inside functions, and GCL can generate function type declaims for all functions (and this is one trick used to speed up ACL2, I believe.) If the user wants to add manual type declarations, there's nothing in Lisp stopping him. Maybe it's just a matter of allowing the user to specify that the compiler should break on warnings?

I think many of the proposed extensions to CL are things that are either already done, could be done without changing the standard, or require only extensions to the standard.

Baker made a more interesting point when he complained that software didn't have the huge per-seat cost of chip design software packages. If chip designers found automated help useful enough to pay that much, then why didn't software developers? The reason, I think, is networking effects, which strongly encourages one to use the same development environment as everyone else. It's a point in Common Lisp's favor that it has survived (and, in its small niche, may even be thriving) even fighting against this tide.

Costly (but worthwhile) software development tools will impede the loss of software jobs to the low cost markets. From what I've seen of development there, their capital budgets are constrained; only in the last decade or so has the cost of equiping a developer there fallen low enough to make a good business case for offshoring.

What does that have to do with Lisp? Can we do something to Lisp, or Lisp implementations, so that expensive development platforms make more economic sense? I have some ideas here I'll expand on some other time.

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