… it looks more or less like the hardware designers have run out of ideas, and that they’re trying to pass the blame for the future demise of Moore’s Law to the software writers by giving us machines that work faster only on a few key benchmarks!
Donald Knuth (Quoted here)
Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.
Edsger Dijkstra (although disputed)
Real computer scientists despise the idea of actual hardware. Hardware has limitations, software doesn’t. It’s a real shame that Turing machines are so poor at I/O.
Much as I hate to disagree with Donald Knuth, I think he is being overly harsh to the hardware manufacturers (at least on this particular topic). Chips are now being produced with 14 nm features. Chip designers are faced with some fundamental limits of the universe: quantum effects and the speed of light matter at this scale. They are also having to deal with billions of transistors on a chip. I am always amazed that anything computer based works at all.
I used Donald Knuth’s quote at a talk Chuck Rose and I gave at a domain specific languages conference a few years ago. The talk can be found here. It goes into detail about Pixel Bender, a high performance language for image processing (i.e. very fast, very cool special effects on images), that can use as much parallelism as is available.
As usual, Dijkstra makes the rest of us look like we are banging our heads against the keyboard and accepting whatever results as a valid program. The University of Texas maintains an archive of Dijkstra’s manuscripts. (See also a previous quote of the week).
And finally, while “real computer scientists” might “despise the idea of actual hardware”, some of us have to deal with actual hardware to make a living. I am immensely grateful for the fact that we have top notch thinkers like Knuth and Dijkstra, and I am also grateful that we have engineers at the chip companies doing the hard work necessary to give us processors that work.