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Proceedings Paper

Implications of the Turing machine model of computation for processor and programming language design
Author(s): Geoffrey Hunter
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Paper Abstract

A computational process is classified according to the theoretical model that is capable of executing it; computational processes that require a non-predeterminable amount of intermediate storage for their execution are Turing-machine (TM) processes, while those whose storage are predeterminable are Finite Automation (FA) processes. Simple processes (such as traffic light controller) are executable by Finite Automation, whereas the most general kind of computation requires a Turing Machine for its execution. This implies that a TM process must have a non-predeterminable amount of memory allocated to it at intermediate instants of its execution; i.e. dynamic memory allocation. Many processes encountered in practice are TM processes. The implication for computational practice is that the hardware (CPU) architecture and its operating system must facilitate dynamic memory allocation, and that the programming language used to specify TM processes must have statements with the semantic attribute of dynamic memory allocation, for in Alan Turing’s thesis on computation (1936) the “standard description” of a process is invariant over the most general data that the process is designed to process; i.e. the program describing the process should never have to be modified to allow for differences in the data that is to be processed in different instantiations; i.e. data-invariant programming. Any non-trivial program is partitioned into sub-programs (procedures, subroutines, functions, modules, etc). Examination of the calls/returns between the subprograms reveals that they are nodes in a tree-structure; this tree-structure is independent of the programming language used to encode (define) the process. Each sub-program typically needs some memory for its own use (to store values intermediate between its received data and its computed results); this locally required memory is not needed before the subprogram commences execution, and it is not needed after its execution terminates; it may be allocated as its execution commences, and deallocated as its execution terminates, and if the amount of this local memory is not known until just before execution commencement, then it is essential that it be allocated dynamically as the first action of its execution. This dynamically allocated/deallocated storage of each subprogram’s intermediate values, conforms with the stack discipline; i.e. last allocated = first to be deallocated, an incidental benefit of which is automatic overlaying of variables. This stack-based dynamic memory allocation was a semantic implication of the nested block structure that originated in the ALGOL-60 programming language. AGLOL-60 was a TM language, because the amount of memory allocated on subprogram (block/procedure) entry (for arrays, etc) was computable at execution time. A more general requirement of a Turing machine process is for code generation at run-time; this mandates access to the source language processor (compiler/interpretor) during execution of the process. This fundamental aspect of computer science is important to the future of system design, because it has been overlooked throughout the 55 years since modern computing began in 1048. The popular computer systems of this first half-century of computing were constrained by compile-time (or even operating system boot-time) memory allocation, and were thus limited to executing FA processes. The practical effect was that the distinction between the data-invariant program and its variable data was blurred; programmers had to make trial and error executions, modifying the program’s compile-time constants (array dimensions) to iterate towards the values required at run-time by the data being processed. This era of trial and error computing still persists; it pervades the culture of current (2003) computing practice.

Paper Details

Date Published: 30 December 2003
PDF: 10 pages
Proc. SPIE 5200, Applications and Science of Neural Networks, Fuzzy Systems, and Evolutionary Computation VI, (30 December 2003); doi: 10.1117/12.505054
Show Author Affiliations
Geoffrey Hunter, York Univ. (Canada)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 5200:
Applications and Science of Neural Networks, Fuzzy Systems, and Evolutionary Computation VI
Bruno Bosacchi; David B. Fogel; James C. Bezdek, Editor(s)

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