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Abstract: As computer technology matures, our growing ability to create large systems is leading to basic changes in the nature of programming. Current programming language concepts will not be adequate for building and maintaining systems of the complexity called for by the tasks we attempt. Just as high level languages enabled the programmer to escape from the intricacies of a machine’s order code, higher level programming systems can provide the means to understand and manipulate complex systems and components. In order to develop such systems, we need to shift our attention away from the detailed specification of algorithms, towards the description of the properties of the packages and objects with which we build. This paper analyzes some of the shortcomings of programming languages as they now exist, and lays out some possible directions for future research.

First paragraph: Computer programming today is in a state of crisis (or, more optimistically, a state of creative ferment). There is a growing recognition that the available programming languages are not adequate for building computer systems. Of course, as any first year student of computation theory knows, they are logically sufficient. But they do not deal adequately with the problems we face in the day-to-day work of programming. We become swamped by the complexity of large systems, lost in code written by others, and mystified by the behavior of our almost debugged systems. When we look to the integrated multiprocessor systems that will soon dominate computing, the situation is even worse.


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    This paper has an excellent bibliography: the references are grouped by topic, which is super sparkly. These are the topic headings:

    • The programming of complex systems
    • Representation formalisms
    • Formalisms for specifying programs and describing systems
    • Structured objects and structured procedures
    • Program factoring - modules, objects, and procedures
    • States and transitions
    • Interacting processes and communication
    • Lisp
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      Looking at the “Motivating Example” section and its conclusion it pleases to see there indeed has been some progress since 1979.