Lecture 1: What’s So Important About Language?

Title slide

Slides : Recording

This opening lecture covered some background context for the course, with ideas about what makes existing programming languages distinctive and what inspires new ones. You can read some of this in the slides for the lecture or listen to the recording on Media Hopper Create.

Students contributed a lengthy and highly-informed list of programming languages, paradigms, and reasons for choosing between them. Sadly, with no video recording in the room itself I can’t show those here.

The lecture closed with arrangements for the next lecture (we’ll be alternating between two rooms each week) and homework to prepare.

Link: Slides for Lecture  1; Recording of Lecture 1


1. Read This

Read the Wikipedia article on the History of programming languages. (If you find it’s missing something, then see if you can fix that.)

2. Do This

Pick a programming language you don’t already know, and find out the following.

  • Does it assign types to distinguish between things like numbers, strings, or functions?

  • Does it check these are used correctly?

  • How does it do that? When does it do that?

Bring your answers along to the lecture.

Self-assembling kilobots

Swarm of kilobots

Photograph of Collective Construction Crew
Research Group

Self-Assembling Swarm
Kilobots do their thing

The research group on self-organizing systems at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences demonstrate the capabilities of their 1024-robot swarm.

Scientists Program Largest Swarm of Robots EverMarcus Woo, WIRED Science, 14 August 2014.

Links: Article; Video; Research Group; Kilobot Shop

Iron Man

Programming Language Power
Visualisations that miss the point of programmability

Iron Man (Iron Man)

Hulkbuster Hulkbuster (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Four Jaegers in the ocean

Jaegers (Pacific Rim)

 Engraving of Proteus

Programming Language Capability
There are always new things programs can do and become

Proteus, sea god who can change shape into any form.

Link: Wikipedia on Proteus; Eleventh Labour of Hercules

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