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Kenneth E. Iverson (1920 – 2004)


Canadian computer scientist noted for developing the APL programming language.
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Kenneth E. Iverson
Most programming languages are decidedly inferior to mathematical notation and are little used as tools of thought in ways that would be considered significant by, say, an applied mathematician.
Iverson quotes
Although mathematical notation undoubtedly possesses parsing rules, they are rather loose, sometimes contradictory, and seldom clearly stated. [...] The proliferation of programming languages shows no more uniformity than mathematics. Nevertheless, programming languages do bring a different perspective. [...] Because of their application to a broad range of topics, their strict grammar, and their strict interpretation, programming languages can provide new insights into mathematical notation.
Iverson
The practice of first developing a clear and precise definition of a process without regard for efficiency, and then using it as a guide and a test in exploring equivalent processes possessing other characteristics, such as greater efficiency, is very common in mathematics. It is a very fruitful practice which should not be blighted by premature emphasis on efficiency in computer execution.




Iverson Kenneth E. quotes
Overemphasis of efficiency leads to an unfortunate circularity in design: for reasons of efficiency early programming languages reflected the characteristics of the early computers, and each generation of computers reflects the needs of the programming languages of the preceding generation.
Iverson Kenneth E.
The properties of executability and universality associated with programming languages can be combined, in a single language, with the well-known properties of mathematical notation which make it such an effective tool of thought.
Kenneth E. Iverson quotes
The utility of a language as a tool of thought increases with the range of topics it can treat, but decreases with the amount of vocabulary and the complexity of grammatical rules which the user must keep in mind. Economy of notation is therefore important.
Kenneth E. Iverson
I was appalled to find that the mathematical notation on which I had been raised failed to fill the needs of the courses I was assigned, and I began work on extensions to notation that might serve. In particular, I adopted the matrix algebra used in my thesis work, the systematic use of matrices and higher-dimensional arrays (almost) learned in a course in Tensor Analysis rashly taken in my third year at Queen’s, and (eventually) the notion of Operators in the sense introduced by Heaviside in his treatment of Maxwell’s equations.
Iverson Kenneth E. quotes
It is important to distinguish the difficulty of describing and learning a piece of notation from the difficulty of mastering its implications. [...] Indeed, the very suggestiveness of a notation may make it seem harder to learn because of the many properties it suggests for exploration.
Iverson
The precision provided (or enforced) by programming languages and their execution can identify lacunas, ambiguities, and other areas of potential confusion in conventional [mathematical] notation.
Iverson Kenneth E.
The initial motive for developing APL was to provide a tool for writing and teaching. Although APL has been exploited mostly in commercial programming, I continue to believe that its most important use remains to be exploited: as a simple, precise, executable notation for the teaching of a wide range of subjects.
Kenneth E. Iverson
If it is to be effective as a tool of thought, a notation must allow convenient expression not only of notions arising directly from a problem, but also of those arising in subsequent analysis, generalization, and specialization.




Kenneth E. Iverson quotes
With the computer and programming languages, mathematics has newly-acquired tools, and its notation should be reviewed in the light of them. The computer may, in effect, be used as a patient, precise, and knowledgeable "native speaker" of mathematical notation.
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