How to Glue

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Even software engineers know about their holy grail.

As descendants of the peak of modernism, I mean the historical phase between the “Wiener Kreis” and its founders of the positivism and the formalization of cybernetics by Norbert Wiener, this holy grail is given, of course, by the trinity of immediacy, transparency and independence.

It sounds somewhat strange that programmers are chasing this holy trinity. All the day long they are linking and fixing and defining, using finite state automata (paradoxically called “language”). Yet, programming is also about abstraction, which means nothing less as to decouple “things” from “ideas,” or more profane, the material  from the immaterial. Data are decoupled from programs, data are also decoupled from their representation (format), machines are decoupled, nowadays forming clouds (what a romantic label for distributed control), even inside a program, structures are decoupled from their actualization (into a programming language), objects are decoupled as much as possible and so on.

These are probably some of the reasons upon which Donald Knuth coined the issue of “The Art of Programming.” Again, it has of course nothing to do with the proclaimed subject, art in this case, even not metaphorically. Software engineers suffer from the illness of romanticism since the inception of software. Software always has a well-identified purpose, simply put, by definition. By definition, software is not art. Yet, there is of course something concerning software engineering, which can’t be defined formally (even as it is not art); maybe, that’s why Knuth felt to be inclined towards this misleading comparison (it not only hides the “essentials” of art, but also of formalization).

Due to the mere size of the issue of abstraction or even abstraction in programming we have to refrain from the discussion of this trinitarian grail filled with modernist phantasms about evanescence. We will perhaps do so elsewhere. Yet, what we will introduce here is a new approach to link different parts of a program, or different instances of some programs, where “program” means something like “executable” on a standard physical computer in 2011.

This approach will follow the constraint that the whole arrangement should be able to grow and to differentiate. In that we have to generalize and to transcend the principles as listed above. In a first, still coarse step we could say that we relate programs such that

  • – the linkage is an active medium, it is ought to be meta-transparent and almost immediate;
  • – independence is indeed complete, thus causing the necessity of extrinsic higher-order symbolism (non-behavioristic behavior)
  • – the linking instance is able to actualize very different, but first of all randomized communicological models

We created a small piece of software that is able (not yet completely, of course) to  represent these principles. Soon you will find it in the download area.

There are, of course, a lot of highly sophisticated softwares, both commercial and open sourced, dealing with the problem of linking programs, or users to programs. We discuss a sample of the more important ones here, along with the reasons why we did not take them as-is for our purpose of a (physically and abstractly) growing system. Of course, it was inspiring to check their specifications.

This brings us to the specification of or piece, which we call NooLabGlue:

  • – its main purpose is to link instances or parts of programs, irrespective of physical boundaries, such as networks or transport protocols (see OSI-stack);
  • – above all, its usage of the client-library API for the programmer has to be as simple as possible; actually, it has to be so simple, that its instantiation can be formalized.
  • – its functionality of “glueing” should not be dependent on a particular programming language;
  • – in its implementation (on the level of the computation procedure [1]) it has to follow the paradigm of natural neural systems: randomization and associativity; this means that it also should be able to learn;
  • – any kind of “data” should be transferable, even programs, or modules thereof;

In order to fulfill this requirements some basic practical decisions have to be made about the “architecture” and the tools to be employed:

  • – the communicative roles of a “glued” system are participants that are linking to a MessageBoard; participants have properties, e.g. regarding their type of activity (being source, receptor, or both), the type of data they are releasing or accepting, or as specified by more elaborate filters (concerning content), issued by the participants and hosted by the MessageBoard; there may be even “personal” relationships between participants, or between groups (1+:1+) of them;
  • – the exchange of messages is realized as a fully transactional system: participants as well as the MessageBoard (the message “server”) may shut down / restart at any time, and still “nothing” will be lost (nothing: none of the completely transferred messages);
  • – xml and only xml is transferred, no direct object linking like in ORB, RMI, or Akka; objects and binary stuff (like pdf, etc.) are taken as data elements inside the xml and they are transferred in encoded form (basically as a string of base64);
  • – contracting is NOT on the level of fields and data types, but instead on the level of document types and the respective behavioral level;
  • – MessageBoards are able to cascade is necessary, using different transport protocols or OSI-layers at the same time, e.g. for relaying messages between local and remote resources;
  • – the “style” to run remote MessageBoards is actualized following restful approach (we use the Java Restlet framework); that means, that there are no difficulties to connect applications across firewalls; note that the restful resource approach is taken as a style on top of HTTP, as a replacement of home-grown HTTP client; yet, the “semantics” will NOT be encoded into the URL as this would need cookies and similar stuff: the “semantics” remains fully within the xml (which even could be encrypted); in local networks, one may use transport through UDP (small messages) or TCP (any message size), neither the programmer nor the “vegetative” system need to be aware of the actual format/type of transport protocol.

Now, imagine that there are several hundred instances of growing and pullulating Self-Organizing Maps around, linked by this kind of “infrastructure”… the SOM may even be part of the MessageBoard (at least concerning the adaptive routing of “messages”).

Such an infrastructure seems to be perfect for a system that is able to develop the capability for Non-Turing-Computation.

(download of a basic version will be available soon)

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