2009 Retrospective

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Subject Headings: Retrospective, Opinion Article.



Retrospective (1969–1999)

  • It occurred to me that an elegant formalization might consist of an collection of axioms, similar to those introduced by Euclid to formalize the science of land measurement. My hope was to find axioms that would be strong enough to enable programmers to discharge their responsibility to write correct and efficient programs. Yet I wanted them to be weak enough to permit a variety of efficient implementation strategies, suited to the particular characteristics of the widely varying hardware architectures prevalent at the time.
  • I expected that research into the axiomatic method would occupy me for my entire working life; and I expected that its results would not find widespread practical application in industry until after I reached retirement age. These expectations led me in 1968 to move from an industrial to an academic career. And when I retired in 1999, both the positive and the negative expectations had been entirely fulfilled.

Prospective (2009–)

  • In 1969, I was afraid industrial research would dispose such vastly superior resources that the academic researcher would be well advised to withdraw from competition and move to a new area of research. But again, I was wrong. Pure academic research and applied industrial research are complementary, and should be pursued concurrently and in collaboration. The goal of industrial research is (and should always be) to pluck the 'low-hanging fruit'; that is, to solve the easiest parts of the most prevalent problems, in the particular circumstances of here and now. But the goal of the pure research scientist is exactly the opposite: it is to construct the most general theories, covering the widest possible range of phenomena, and to seek certainty of knowledge that will endure for future generations. It is to avoid the compromises so essential to engineering, and to seek ideals like accuracy of measurement, purity of materials, and correctness of programs, far beyond the current perceived needs of industry or popularity in the market-place. For this reason, it is only scientific research that can prepare mankind for the unknown unknowns of the forever uncertain future.

The End

  • No exponential growth can continue forever.


 AuthorvolumeDate ValuetitletypejournaltitleUrldoinoteyear
2009 RetrospectiveC. A. R. HoareRetrospective: an axiomatic basis for computer programmingCommunications of the ACM10.1145/1562764.15627792009
Facts about "2009 Retrospective"
AuthorC. A. R. Hoare +
doi10.1145/1562764.1562779 +
journalCommunications of the ACM +
titleRetrospective: an axiomatic basis for computer programming +
year2009 +