[Haskell-cafe] Haskell-Cafe Digest, Vol 158, Issue 29

Richard A. O'Keefe ok at cs.otago.ac.nz
Fri Oct 28 00:38:47 UTC 2016

On 28/10/16 8:41 AM, Rik Howard wrote:
> Any novelty in the note would only ever be in the way that the mix is
> provided.  You raise salient points about the sort of challenges that
> languages will need to confront although a search has left me still
> unsure about PGPUs.  Can I ask you to say a bit more about programming
> styles: what Java can't do, what others can do, how that scales?

The fundamental issue is that Java is very much an imperative language
(although books on concurrent programming in Java tend to strongly
recommending immutable data structures whenever practical, because they
are safer to share).

The basic computational model of (even concurrent) imperative languages
is the RAM: there is a set of threads living in a single address space
where all memory is equally and as easily accessible to all threads.

Already that's not true.  One of the machines sitting on my desk is a
Parallela:  2 ARM cores, 16 RISC cores, there's a single address space
shared by the RISC cores but each of them "owns" a chunk of it and
access is not uniform.  Getting information between the ARM cores and
the RISC cores is not trivial.  Indeed, one programming model for the
Parallela is OpenCL 1.1, although as they note,
"Creating an API for architectures not even considered during the 
creation of a standard is challenging.  This can be seen in the case of 
Epiphany, which possesses an architecture very different from a GPU, and 
which supports functionality not yet supported by a GPU. OpenCL as an 
API for Epiphany is good, but not perfect."  The thing is that the
Epiphany chip is more *like* a GPU than it is like anything say Java
might want to run on.

For that matter, there is the IBM "Cell" processor, basically a Power
core and a bunch of RISCish cores, not entirely unlike the Epiphany.
As the Wikipedia page on the Cell notes, "Cell is widely regarded as a 
challenging environment for software development".

Again, Java wants a (1) large (2) flat (3) shared address space, and
that's *not* what Cell delivers.  The memory space available to each
"SPE" in a Cell is effectively what would have been L1 cache on a more
conventional machine, and transfers between that and main memory are
non-trivial.  So Cell memory is (1) small (2) heterogeneous and (3)

The Science Data Processor for the Square Kilometre Array is still
being designed.  As far as I know, they haven't committed to a CPU
architecture yet, and they probably want to leave that pretty late.
Cell might be a candidate, but I suspect they'll not want to spend
much of their software development budget on a "challenging"

Hmm.  Scaling.

Here's the issue.  It looks as though the future of scaling is
*lots* of processors, running *slower* than typical desktops,
with things turned down or off as much as possible, so you won't
be able to pull the Parallela/Epiphany trick of always being able
to access another chip's local memory.  Any programming model
that relies on large flat shared address spaces is out; message
passing that copies stuff is going to be much easier to manage
than passing a pointer to memory that might be powered off when
you need it; anything that creates tight coupling between the
execution orders of separate processors is going to be a nightmare.

We're also looking at more things moving into special-purpose
hardware, in order to reduce power costs.  It would be nice to be
able to do this without a complete rewrite...

Coarray Fortran (in the current standard) is an attempt to deal with
the kinds of machines I'm talking about.  Whether it's a good attempt
I couldn't say, I'm still trying to get my head around it.  (More
precisely, I think I understand what it's about, but I haven't a
clue about how to *use* the feature effectively.)  There are people
at Rice who think it could be better.

Reverting to the subject of declarative/procedural, I recently came
across Lee Naish's "Pawns" language.  Still very much a prototype,
and he is interested in the semantics, not the syntax.

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