How is software’s space vs. time trade-off evolving?

Data-centric, constraint-based declarative processes trump procedural algorithms.

Complex reasoning at scale demands declarative processing

Complex reasoning at scale demands declarative processing

In software, we can trade processing cycles (time) for storage (space). For example, imagine an algorithm where every possible input combination, processing sequence, and output variation had been pre-computed and that the results of all these possible states had been stored. Next time there would be no need to (re)execute the program because all possible inputs and results have already been computed and declared. You simply look up the result by specifying the variables that constrain the space of possible outcomes. Nothing could be faster.

Historically, the cost of computation favored executing algorithms over and over, rather than providing the semantic bandwidth and memory to access and store all possible permutations in a declarative knowledge mesh. That was then.

Today, computing economics have reversed. Massive memory and parallel processing is cheap and getting cheaper. Massive declarative knowledge-based computing is now economical.

But, there’s an even more compelling reason why the shift is happening now — new capabiities.
Declarative systems allow applications that can learn, evolve, and use knowledge in ways the system designer could not foresee.

How is this possible?

  • Declarative languages specify “what” is to be done. Declarative representations are like a glass box with knowledge visible in a format that can be accessed, manipulated, decomposed, analyzed, and added to by independent reasoners.
  • Imperative (procedural) languages, on the other hand, encode “how” to achieve a particular result, step by step. Procedural representations are like a black box with knowledge fixed and locked inside an algorithm. Procedural systems do the same thing every time and cannot learn from experience. Making changes requires rebuilding data stores and rewriting algorithms off-line.

Comments are closed.