from idea to projectLYBRHED@delphi.com
Date: Tue, 03 Aug 1993 04:00:34 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: from idea to project
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; CHARSET=US-ASCII
I have been reading "NeXTSTEP Programming: Step One," by
Garfinkel and Mahoney. The two main projects in the book are...
calculators! First you build a little four-function calculator, then a
more elaborate one that can graph functions. I am struck by the
fact that NeXTSTEP seems to be designed as a construction kit for
making calculators. And the idea of a "calculator" can be taken to
whatever level of sophistication you want.
Steve Jobs's original vision of the NeXT Cube could be described as
"a platform for QED." The original Cube came with Mathematica,
Allegro Common Lisp, and a built-in searchable digital library, at
least in skeleton form. It was a Pythagorean computer designed
for mathematicians. But so far the only mathematicians who
have taken him up on it are the quants on Wall Street and the
cryptographers at the CIA. I don't think this was what Steve had
In my last letter I said there should be a demo of QED, or actually
a series of demos with increasing functionality. Why not take the
NeXT Cube as a prototype of QED? Of course it fell far short of the
ideal. It was concerned with numerical calculations rather than
proofs. But it could be taken as a demo of Version 0 of QED. It
was a first approximation to "a computer system that contains all
of mathematics." It is the only computer that even aspires to be
QED-like, and it actually exists, so it gives us a tangible starting
If the Cube is Version 0, then Version 1 would be a 486 computer
running NeXTSTEP 3.x. It will have a built-in proof constructor, to
go with its built-in librarian and built-in calculation engine. By
"proof constructor" I mean a mathematician's workbench,
something like the combination of editor, compiler, and debugger
that programmers use. It could be used to "compile" a proof into
Machine Math and to connect it with other theorems in a
"hypermath" network. It would also be able to animate a proof,
like the programs that animate sorting algorithms.
Version 1 will also have at least the beginning of a mathematical
library. The Digital Librarian is already there in NeXTSTEP as a
capability, but there is no actual content in the library; at least
no mathematical content. The original Cube came with the works
of Shakespeare on an optical disk. Shakespeare was the whole
library! There is more in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than is
dreamt of in your philosophy! This was where Steve's vision
wavered. This was one of his first strategic mistakes. You have to
give him credit for conceiving the idea of a computer with a built-
in library, but instead of Shakespeare he should have bundled a
library of mathematical theorems, methods, and ideas. Version 1
of QED will have at least a token library, enough to see what it
would look like.
First it will be necessary to create the tools needed to write the
proof constructor. NeXTSTEP comes with "kits" for constructing
various kinds of applications: the Music Kit, the DB Kit, and so
forth. What we need is a Math Kit.
This could be an actual project as soon as school starts in the fall.
All we need to do is find some students who think working on
Version 1 would be a good way to learn computer science and math
at the same time, and at least one professor willing to teach them.