TITLE: Software Development Fantasies AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 31, 2004 4:15 PM DESC: What one change in the nature of software development -- or software itself -- would make the world a much better place? ----- BODY: Don't worry. This entry is rated G, for general audiences. The last session of the Onward! track at OOPSLA was a panel-turned-open-mike called Breakthrough Ideas. The idea was simple: Anyone could take the mike for four minutes or less and propose something that would, if true or made so by future development, fundamentally alter the way we use computers, program them, or view computation. The four-minute limit was strictly enforced in order to cycle through as many ideas as possible in the ninety minute session, and to prevent the inevitable rambling that ensues when some of us start talking about some idea yet ill-formed in our minds. The format can't eliminate rambling, only cut it off. A few of the proposed ideas made me smile and want to think about them further: Some other ideas immediately became questions in my mind, either because I didn't understand the proposal or because the proposal really was a question. What would it be like to write software on the model of living organisms? Software these days has hard edges -- rigid interfaces -- that delineate the boundaries of each functional component, which does its job and nothing else. But biological systems have soft edges and seem to operate on the premise that components fail all the time. (See Brian Marick's body-as-kludge article.) Their components also differ from software in that, say, a liver consists of oodles of liver cells, none of which are a liver but which in concert act as a liver -- with primary and secondary and tertiary functions intermingled. Finally, what would you do if you knew that one billion people would use your software? For starters, you would probably have to make the program multilingual down to its foundations... Or would you? I think it's neat that some people think thoughts like these, and that at least a few of them are even actively pursuing answers... -----