Shadows of Cavernous Shades: Charting the Chiaroscuro of Realistic Computing

Detta är en avhandling från Department of Computer Science, Box 118, S-221 00 Lund, Sweden

Sammanfattning: During the early 1990s, a novel style of programming often referred to as component-oriented programming quickly grew popular as the state-of-the-art in graphical user interface and client/server development on Windows-based personal computers, largely in competition with object-oriented programming, a partly similar, partly different programming paradigm, with which component-orientation is often compared, combined, and confused. Also during the 1990s, the world-wide web spread its arachnoid gossamer over the globe with deep-ranging ramifications for software component technology. Certainly, software componentry is not only a programming paradigm, but is closely wedded to complex component and distributed object infrastructures, such as Microsoft’s COM/COM+/ActiveX and .NET, OMG’s CORBA, and Sun’s Java2 Enterprise Edition, which all provide support for a very wide range of functionality. One particularly intriguing, but widely overlooked development on this arena is the vision of “cooperative business objects” gestated by Oliver Sims and implemented by him and his colleagues in the Newi system. In the Newi vision, very high-level, loosely coupled, and independently executable objects modelling real-world concepts and co-operating through semantic messaging replace today’s “programmes” and “applications”, transforming the computer into a small world of “business objects”. In the present study, the component and business object ideas and technologies will be explored from a number of different angles: The history of these ideas in software development will be traced, the usage of the terms “component” and “business object” analysed and contrasted to various similar concepts, and the technical principles, architectures, and infrastructures, on which they rest, surveyed and probed. This done, the concept of “agendas of computing” will be introduced and a number of such agendas identified. On the basis of the aforementioned enquiry, a somewhat novel agenda of “realistic computing” will be proposed and outlined, being essentially an attempt to integrate several independent developments and trends in computing, which all point towards a common understanding of the computer as a “small world”, including object-orientation in programming and user interface design, business objects, and 3-D “virtual reality” user interfaces. Notably, the business objects taken advantage of here should also be “components” unencumbered by the “fragile class problem”, which has been identified as the Achilles heel of object-oriented programming by many advocates of component-orientation. In a rather detailed study of this problem, I suggest that some restrictions should be put on the object-oriented inheritance mechanism in order to eliminate class fragility. Thus will be born a new programming paradigm, “encapsulated programming”, which unifies components and objects into “capsules”, thereby also providing the basis for realistic computing. In addition, I briefly consider how today’s component infrastructures can be used as a foundation for implementations of the agenda of realistic computing. Finally, I argue that by the amalgamation of a 3-D virtual reality user interface with Newi-style business objects – modified into “capsules” – a decisive step towards a more lifelike, “realistic” computer environment can be taken. But there’s a rub: Shall we really take this step and try to create such a phantasmal 3-D shadow world? What would the success of something like this imply for man and society? Why do we at all contemplate such a preposterous and strange idea? Such questions lead to others such as: What is computing really about? And what are the roots of all this restless technoscientific activity, the Faustian spirit of the West with its “modern project”? In a final section, I try to address such unduly neglected or even shunned questions through a comprehensive enquiry into many branches of knowledge, faith, and speculation, including metaphysics, the history of ideas, the history, sociology, and theory of science and technology, macro- and metahistory, theology, eschatology, ethics, and others as well. Having contemplated a plethora of apparently relevant topics, I attempt to apply the insights garnered to some of the most fundamental and debated problems of computer science. As a result of my studies, I finally come down strongly in favour of our good old ordinary reality and abjure the whole project of realistic computing as an unwholesome techgnostic fantasy.

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