Results tagged “sicp” from Ye Olde Rad Blog III

The SICP course, hailed by many as the single-best introduction to Computer Science, focuses on » methods to 'control complexity.'

Structure & Interpretation of Computer Programs The MIT professors who designed the course (Abelson & Sussman) both come from a background in Electrical Engineering, which obviously influenced their conceptualization of the course.

In other words, it seems they applied the techniques associated with Computer Science to a conceptual framework designed to teach Electrical Engineering (.. a familiar paradigm).

The course focuses on solving the problems associated with building "very large" (complex) computer programs by expounding on the following 2-step process:

  1. Simple things (such as numbers, symbols, $variables, data, procedures) are combined to build complex things.

  2. These complex things (typically data & procedures) are then wrapped in a "black-box" in order to 'simplify' them .. so they can be used as components in building even-more complex things.

The technique of 'abstracting' complex things so they can be used as components in building something even more-complex is termed » "Black-Box Abstraction."

Consider how a microwave oven (or fridge or stove) is used as a component in building a kitchen (which is part of a house, which is part of a neighborhood, which is part of a city, which is .. part of something ever more-complex).

Notice how the electronics (inside the microwave) are hidden from view. All you know is » cold-food in, hot-food out. (Simple.) That's the principle behind 'abstraction' » hiding complexity.

"Computer Science is not a science," proclaims a professor at MIT, drawing an X over the word. He's introducing an introductory course on Programming called » 'Structure & Interpretation of Computer Programs' .. aka SICP. (Watch the video yourself » HERE.)

The Wizard Book » Structure & Interpretation of Computer Programs, by Abelson & Sussman

Less than a minute into the lecture and already I'm curious. "If it's not a science," I wonder, "then...??"

"It might be engineering," he continues, as if reading my mind, "Or it might be art. We'll actually see that computer so-called 'science' actually has a lot in common with magic."

I smile at this point, having gained insight into the graphic displayed on the book's cover, understanding why some refer to it as » The Wizard Book.

Then he draws an X over the word 'Computer' and says, "It's not really about computers either." (Okay, now I'm really interested.)

"The reason we think Computer Science is about computers," he continues, "is for the same reason the ancient Egyptians thought geometry was about surveying instruments ..

.. » because, when a particular field is just getting started, and you don't really understand it very well, it's easy to confuse what you're doing with the tools you use."

So-called Computer Science (he explains) is really about formalizing intuitions & knowledge about » Process (a word he writes on the board .. he's a lefty, btw). He then clarifies himself by saying, "How to *do* things."


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