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Why Perl Is Like a Human Language
Larry Wall is the computer programmer responsible for creating Perl, a powerful general-purpose programming language known for its strengths in text processing. Wall, whose graduate work was in linguistics, designed Perl in 1987 for reports processing and continues to oversee the language's development according to the motto "Larry is always right, even when he was wrong." He also originated the three canonical "virtues" of a good programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris.
Question: Did your study of linguistics play a role in Perl’s development?
Larry Wall: Yes, it did, indeed. My linguistics training...I wasn't intending to write a computer language when I took the linguistics training. It was really, my wife and I were actually intending to be missionaries, so it was very practical linguistics, in terms of field linguistics. We were going to go out and learn a language that had not been written before and produce a writing system for it and do translations into the language, but I developed a bunch of health issues that prevented me from doing that. So instead, I went on into industry and used some of my computer skills, but my interest has always been in the way languages work and I written compilers before Perl, and so when the time came that I had a problem that I couldn't solve with any of the tools I already had, I just said, "Well, I can do better than that." So I took some of the ideas that I had used in my previous languages and I took ideas from other languages and I shoved them all together in one spot and I, then I decided, "Well, I, you know, this isn't just for myself, I'd like it if other people used what I do," so I sent it out and other people liked it to, and it just grew from there.
But the design all along has been to pull things together in almost a random way, the way in natural languages, you know, English pull stuff from Viking and French and Anglo-Saxon and what have you, even a little Japanese in there—a skosh. But the say a natural language is put together like that always fascinated me and so I'm interested in, not in a shallow linguistic sense, you know, the old Cobalt language sort of had stock phrases that you plugged things into it, that was sort of cargo-cult natural language.
Perl is more on a deep, fundamental level, how do people use language, how do they expect it to be extended, how it would evolve over time, who gets to contribute to the changes in the language. All these on a deep level, Perl is much more like a natural language than most computer languages.
Question: How are human languages and programming languages similar?
Larry Wall: Well, human languages tend to be much more ambiguous than computer languages because humans are much smarter about interpreting the context. So there is a scale of how much a computer language resembles human language and primarily based on how much context is involved. If there's very literal context, it's very literally, there's some computer languages that are like that. And then other languages know a little bit more about, you know, what has been stated earlier in the program, or what the immediate surroundings are in the program, and Perl kind of takes this to more of an extreme, not as far as human languages, because no computer is smart enough to understand human speech in that way, yet.
But they are all, you get things happening that happen the same in human languages: you get dialects, you get languages that get smooshed together so you get Creoles and pidgin languages. And you get languages that you think ought to be understandable to two different people, but they aren't. You get languages that have the same name, but are different from each other. You get languages that have different names, but are really essentially the same language. So all the processes that happen as natural languages evolve through time, it happened in computer languages, too.
Now, there are some other differences. Natural languages generally are not designed by humans, they're just designed by the participants and you say something new and somebody else says, "Oh, that's a cool way to say it," and the next thing you know, everyone is saying it because it's shiny. There's one. But computer languages tend to have explicit designers, but if a computer language is well designed, the computer language designer stays out of the face of the programmer and gives the programmer ways, various ways of having the flexibility that they would have in natural language, to pick one way of saying things or another. And to the extent that they can give that flexibility, sort of give an artistic medium to the programmer to be creative, to that extent, people can take great joy in writing a computer program in the same way they might take great joy in writing a great poem or a play.
Wall’s background in linguistics helped him to create a programming language that borrows bits from other languages, much like English.
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.
- Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
- More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
- SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
Source: McKinsey Global Institute analysis [PDF]<p>Work in understanding the skills at the heart of the new digital economy is leading to novel assessments that allow individuals to prove mastery to faithfully represent their abilities—but also to give weight and stackability to the emerging ecosystem of micro-credentials that make education more seamless across time and education providers. And we are seeing the beginnings of a renewal in the liberal arts, focused on building human skills in affordable ways that are accessible to many more individuals and far more effective.</p><p>Amidst these dark times, there is much opportunity to refresh the nation's education and training solutions to support the success of individuals and society writ large.</p>