Paper: Beautiful differentiation

I have another paper draft for submission to ICFP 2009. This one is called Beautiful differentiation, The paper is a culmination of the several posts I’ve written on derivatives and automatic differentiation (AD). I’m happy with how the derivation keeps getting simpler. Now I’ve boiled extremely general higher-order AD down to a Functor and Applicative morphism.

I’d love to get some readings and feedback. I’m a bit over the page the limit, so I’ll have to do some trimming before submitting.

The abstract:

Automatic differentiation (AD) is a precise, efficient, and convenient method for computing derivatives of functions. Its implementation can be quite simple even when extended to compute all of the higher-order derivatives as well. The higher-dimensional case has also been tackled, though with extra complexity. This paper develops an implementation of higher-dimensional, higher-order differentiation in the extremely general and elegant setting of calculus on manifolds and derives that implementation from a simple and precise specification.

In order to motivate and discover the implementation, the paper poses the question “What does AD mean, independently of implementation?” An answer arises in the form of naturality of sampling a function and its derivative. Automatic differentiation flows out of this naturality condition, together with the chain rule. Graduating from first-order to higher-order AD corresponds to sampling all derivatives instead of just one. Next, the notion of a derivative is generalized via the notions of vector space and linear maps. The specification of AD adapts to this elegant and very general setting, which even simplifies the development.

You can get the paper and see current errata here.

The submission deadline is March 2, so comments before then are most helpful to me.

Enjoy, and thanks!

Denotational design with type class morphisms

I’ve just finished a draft of a paper called Denotational design with type class morphisms, for submission to ICFP 2009. The paper is on a theme I’ve explored in several posts, which is semantics-based design, guided by type class morphisms.

I’d love to get some readings and feedback. Pointers to related work would be particularly appreciated, as well as what’s unclear and what could be cut. It’s an entire page over the limit, so I’ll have to do some trimming before submitting.

The abstract:

Type classes provide a mechanism for varied implementations of standard interfaces. Many of these interfaces are founded in mathematical tradition and so have regularity not only of types but also of properties (laws) that must hold. Types and properties give strong guidance to the library implementor, while leaving freedom as well. Some of the remaining freedom is in how the implementation works, and some is in what it accomplishes.

To give additional guidance to the what, without impinging on the how, this paper proposes a principle of type class morphisms (TCMs), which further refines the compositional style of denotational semantics. The TCM idea is simply that the instance’s meaning is the meaning’s instance. This principle determines the meaning of each type class instance, and hence defines correctness of implementation. In some cases, it also provides a systematic guide to implementation, and in some cases, valuable design feedback.

The paper is illustrated with several examples of type, meanings, and morphisms.

You can get the paper and see current errata here.

The submission deadline is March 2, so comments before then are most helpful to me.

Enjoy, and thanks!

Simply efficient functional reactivity

I submitted a paper Simply efficient functional reactivity to ICFP 2008.

Abstract:

Functional reactive programming (FRP) has simple and powerful semantics, but has resisted efficient implementation. In particular, most past implementations have used demand-driven sampling, which accommodates FRP’s continuous time semantics and fits well with the nature of functional programming. Consequently, values are wastefully recomputed even when inputs don’t change, and reaction latency can be as high as the sampling period.

This paper presents a way to implement FRP that combines data- and demand-driven evaluation, in which values are recomputed only when necessary, and reactions are nearly instantaneous. The implementation is rooted in a new simple formulation of FRP and its semantics and so is easy to understand and reason about.

On the road to efficiency and simplicity, we’ll meet some old friends (monoids, functors, applicative functors, monads, morphisms, and improving values) and make some new friends (functional future values, reactive normal form, and concurrent “unambiguous choice”).

Tangible Functional Programming: a modern marriage of usability and composability

Earlier this month I gave a tech talk at Google, entitled “Tangible Functional Programming: a modern marriage of usability and composability”. Thanks to Google folks, the talk is now up on YouTube. I showed a way make functional programming “tangible” and visual, rather than abstract and syntactic and, in doing so, to fulfill the original Unix vision of simple, composable apps.

The key is to keep an app’s interface and functionality combined and separable. Combined yields usability, and separable yields composability. This principle applies not only to GUI-style interfaces, but to textual IO as well, and it applies to both direct composition and syntactic composition. See the TV page for examples of the latter. The common practice of mixing IO with functionality inhibits composability whether in C or in Haskell.

Edit 2008-09-09: The technical/theoretical basis for this tech talk is in the paper Tangible Functional Programming.

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”.