Erlang rocks (Re: Eppur si sugat)

Dr.Dr.Ruediger M.Flaig flaig@REDACTED
Thu May 29 09:58:27 CEST 2003

Hi all,

from my bit of Italian, I think it ought to be "Eppur suga" -- the Latin -t is dropped in the 3rd person singular AFAIK, and it is certainly not reflexive... it does not suck itself, that were recursion.

Now for something more serious... I think the basic sentiment we all share is that Java sucks, and that C++ sucks. They do, and very badly too, and it is annoying to see that they have become a kind of de facto standard. 

I have used both (more than Erlang, I am afraid -- as a molecular biologist, I have to deal with megabyte arrays, and that is not quite what Erlang was designed for -- sinner repent -- well Ocaml is quite nice too ;-) ), and I am equally fed up with the cobolesque boilerplate of 
"private final static paralyzed karl.otto.gustav emil = (karl.otto.gustav) ((egon.kasimir)[anything])" 
and the orkish scrawls of 
"#define n<m>(x,i,j) {*++(*x)->y %= (i>j)?&i--:--&j}", not to mention memory leaks and, and, and... Maybe OO itself does not suck but a concept without implementation is void. 

But I think we are missing the point. The important thing is not that OO is an inferior concept but that FP (or COPL, if you please) is a superior one. Erlang were still great even Stroustrup and Gosling had never come near a computer -- because it enables you to be productive, to write clear and concise code, to cope with errors and, last but not least, because it allows reasoning.

This latest thing is what I have really been missing. Erlang is a functional language, so it should be possible to employ automatic theorem provers and all that kind of stuff. Cummings wrote about ML: "We are not trying to develop 'safer' programs by testing, but developing SAFE programs by reasoning." This is a very philosophical matter. Let me say that Java and C++ rely on induction, Erlang allows deduction, and Sir Karl Popper has said the rest about that, decades ago. So are there any theorem provers for Erlang, as there are for Lisp and ML? Can we prove a program's correctness by reasoning? If not, let's do that!

The other point is that the power of Erlang's concurrency is often underestimated by folks who are not interested in parallelism itself. I am a complete layman to that field but I think that neuronal networks would be a great thing do with Erlang. Has anybody tried this before? Are there any projects in similar fields? Personally, I was attracted to Erlang because I felt that simulation of complex biological processes would be easy to implement. Imagine you have a microbe with some 4000 genes, each with a state of activity and each influencing a couple of others. In Erlang, this would be straightforward... I met a guy who did the like and spend a year on that programming the basic mechanism in Java! So I think we could get away from that "Erlang? Oh, that's for telephones only" image. 

Has anybody worked on this yet?

   Ruediger Marcus Flaig

Dr. Dr. Ruediger Marcus Flaig
Institute for Immunology
University of Heidelberg
Im Neuenheimer Feld 305
D-69120 Heidelberg
Tel. +49-172-7652946 
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