ICFP ’07 paper draft — comments please

Warning: if you’re on the ICFP program committee and want to preserve double-blind reviewing, please ignore this post.

I’ve been working on an ICFP paper called “Tangible Functional Programming”, revising my last year’s submission on Eros. If you’re interested in taking a look, I’d greatly appreciate any comments, especially before the April 6 submission deadline.


We present a user-friendly approach to unifying program creation and execution, based on a notion of “tangible values” (TVs), which are visible and interactive GUI manifestations of pure values. Programming happens by gestural composition of TVs. Our goal is to give end-users the ability to create parameterized, composable content without imposing the usual abstract and linguistic working style of programmers. We hope that such a system will put the essence of programming into the hands of many more people, and in particular people with artistic/visual creative style.

In realizing this vision, we develop algebras for visual presentation and for “deep” function application, where function and argument may both be nested within a structure of tuples, functions, etc. Composition gestures are translated into chains of combinators that act simultaneously on statically typed values and their visualizations.

Here is a figure from the paper, showing one stage of an interactively composed interactive 2D region. The user selects compatibly-typed input and output widgets, typically in different TVs. The result is a new TV that merges the source TVs, except for the connected input and output, which vanish. The sliders control the disk and checker sizes and the checker’s rotation angle.

Edit on March 28:I just added two relevant pointers to the paper’s web page:

Non-syntactic, end-user, functional programming

(This is an edited version of a post made on April 11 that somehow became inaccessible from my main blog page.)

I have a draft paper called “Functional Programming by Interacting with Concrete Values”. I’m very excited about this research direction as a way to let people program without turning them into programmers. A concrete form of this goal is enable artists to make and share their own software tools (parameterized image effects), while staying in an artistic creative mode.

An excerpt from the introduction:

Suppose users of interactive programs could also create such programs with a simple extension of their current style of interaction. First, such a development would enable many more people to create and share computational content. Second, it would allow this content to be created without imposing the abstract, linguistic mode of creativity. This freedom may give birth to new kinds of programs whose creation is nurtured by a concrete and visual environment.

Comments please (related work, ideas, typos, unclear bits, etc)!

Edit 2008-04-17: The paper didn’t get accepted in 2006. Thanks to very helpful review comments, and a lot of rewriting, the paper did get accepted in 2007, under the title “Tangible functional programming”.