Watch your Language

by Andreas Koller

I’m currently reading the book Slaves of the Machine by Gregory Rawlins. It dates back to 1997 but has a good overview on how computers were created. When talking about writing software and programming, he tells an interesting story that illustrates the inaccuracy of language. He asks the question, why computers do what we tell them, but not what we want, and speculates about the future of programming.

„A mathematician, a physicist and an engineer are traveling by train through Scotland when they spot a sheep.

‚Look,‘ says the engineer, ‚Scottish sheep are black!‘

‚No,‘ says the physicist tiredly, ‚From the information given, all we can say is that at least one Scottish sheep is black.‘

‚No‘, says the mathematician, ‚We can but say that there is at least one sheep in Scotland that’s black on at least one side.'“

Rawlins explains how precise computers need to be instructed and that they do what we tell them, but not what we want. He predicts that in the future computers won’t be that stupid anymore and software won’t be handmade.


Gregory J. E. Rawlins
Slaves of the Machine – The Quickening of Computer Technology on MIT Press

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