Re: Classifying the cardinalities of types

Hi David,

Here are the practical reasons:

1. Since my programming language is aimed at practical applications, I
require that all complete programs be deterministic -- in other words, any
non-determinism (multivaluedness or zerovaluedness) is limited to internal
computations, and not the observable results of running the program.  This
requires verifying that the program's type is of cardinality 1.

2. Like Ontic, I use nondeterminism to express the idea that a term has more
than one potential value.  Thus lambda(x 1|2|3|4).x+7 is a function whose
domain is the range of integers from 1-4.  This particular expression can't
reduce any further: we can't evaluate "x+7" because we don't know what value
x will take on.  However, we can reduce the function lambda(x 3).x+7 to
lambda(x 3).10, because we know that "x" can only take on the value 3.  In
general, whenever reading a function parameter, or a "recursive self-value",
I need to examine the cardinality in order to determine whether a reference
(formally, a de Bruijn index) can be released or whether it needs to remain
there in the normal-form.  This is why the potential cardinality set {0,1,m}
works well for my application: all the language rules intimiately care about
is whether a term is uninhabited, single-valued, or multivalued.  There is
no compiler logic special-cased, for example, for cardinality-2 elements.

By "recursive self-value", I mean an expression like {x 3|5|7,y x+3}.  I
represent such things as arrays with a special kind of de Bruijn index
referring back to the enclosing function, rather than its parameter.  This
turns out to be a very expressive notation, allowing object-oriented data
structures a la James Hickey's "Very Dependent Types" -- a type can not only
depend on function parameters, but also on recursive values that aren't
precisely known at specification time.  For example {t:type,n:nat,a[n]:t} is
an array containing a type t, a natural number n, and an array of n elements
of type t.  It's of cardinality m, but unifies with (for example) {char,7,"

3. The language takes the Curry-Howard isomorphism literally, and is the
first language I know of that attempts this.  (Whether this is a good idea
remains to be proven).  In it, "false" represents the 0-element type.  For
every type "t" (which is inherently a single-valued thing), the term ":t"
means "the set of potential values of that type".  Thus :false is of
cardinality 0, :unit is cardinality 1, :int is of cardinality m
(multivalued), etc.

My conditional expressions "if a then b else c" actually branch based on the
cardinality of the condition.  So there is no special boolean type along the
lines of Haskell's "type Bool = True | False".  If the cardinality is known
at compile-time, the conditional expression reduces to one of its branches.
Otherwise (i.e. if the cardinality is 0|1|m), it remains in normal form.

This brings up another topic of having to determine, at compile-time, for
expressions whose cardinality is multivalued, whether the runtime is capable
of reducing it to a known cardinality -- something that doesn't have to be
done perfectly; any conservative approximation is fine.  In other words, if
you say "if {fermat's last theorem} then 2 else 3", the compiler gives you
an error indicating that the condition is undecidable by the compiler.

----- Original Message -----
From: "David B. Benson" <dbenson@eecs.wsu.edu>
To: "Tim Sweeney" <tim@epicgames.com>
Sent: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 7:31 PM
Subject: Re: Classifying the cardinalities of types

> > I'm developing a programming language similar in its type structure to
> > McAllester's Ontic, where types and values are represented in a unified,
> > dependent-typed framework.  One of the major problems of the compiler is
> > characterize the cardinalities of various types in programs, [snip]
>     Interesting, but I am sufficiently n\"aive to wonder why one is
>     interested in these cardinalities...
> Thanks,
> David
> --
> Professor David B. Benson                                (509) 335-2706
> School of EE and Computer Science (EME 102)              (509) 335-3818
> PO Box 642752, Washington State University               office: Sloan 308
and 307
> Pullman WA 99164-2752   U.S.A.
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