Re: Type theory vs floating-point arithmetic

Dear Sergei, dear readers of the Types forum,

I am familiar with the explanation of subtyping that uses coercions.
However, I am not sure about the "it is understood..." part, which 
quite absolute.  Fortunately, it all seems to come down to a mere
difference in terminology.  The coercion-centric view of subtying
is quite consistent with what I originally meant to say (see below).

But first, to clear up the terminology problem, let me briefly describe
how *I* understand subtyping. More knowledgeable people can then
chime in and correct my if I am totally off base...

1.  If A is a subtype of B  (e.g., write A <: B), then from a typing 

         :- x : A

      one can conclude that the judgment

         :- x : B

     must also hold.  (I am simplifying by eliding the typing 
     Now, if we are dealing with a semantic approach, e.g., by 
     types as sets of values, then

            x : A


           [[x]] \in [[A]]

     where [[x]] is the value of x and [[A]] is the set of values that 
interprets A.

     Now, since [[x]] \in [[A]] must imply that [[x]] \in [[B]] we can 
conclude that
     [[A]] \subset [[B]]  (unless [[.]] is not sufficiently abstract so 
that [[A]] and/or
     [[B]] contain "useless" elements that can never be values of any 
     program phrases).

     In a syntactic theory of subtyping one usually finds (directly or 
as part of
     other rules) a subsumption rule of the form

        :-  x : A      A <: B
              :- x : B

     This, without having to resort to semantics, directly captures the 
     "essence"  of  what it means for A to be a subtype of B.

2.  In the *absence* of a subsumption rule in the type system, one can 
"fake" it
      (or, to phrase it differently, "explain" such a rule) by 
postulating the existence
      of explicit coercions. For each pair of what would be subtype A 
and supertype
      B we say that c_{AB} of type A -> B  takes a value of type A and 
"views it as a
      value of type B".  A program that would typecheck with the 
subsumption rule
      but doesn't without can be decorated with just the right number of 
      coercions for typechecking to go through.  In other words, 
coercions take the
      place of the subsumption rule.

      There are a number of coherence requirements that must hold for 
coercions to be
      reasonably considered coercions.  You have explained those quite 

      The driving motivation behind those coherence requirements is that 
      should essentially behave like identities; they should not "alter" 
the value (although,
      as you pointed out, they might alter its representation).  In 
particular, coercions
      should not add information that was not there before.

Now, what I said about the disjointness of values in IEEE 32-bit and 
64-bit representations
can be rephrased in terms of coercions by pointing out that necessarily 
a coercion form
32-bit to 64-bit adds information, namely 29 extra bits of 
precision.(*)  We observe this
by finding the coercion to be incoherent: c (f (x, y)) is not always 
equal to f' (c x, c y).

Of course, one *could* make things coherent -- by defining each 32-bit 
operation f in
terms of its 64-bit counterpart f', coercion and truncation:

     f (x, y) = trunc (f' (extend x, extend y))

However, this is correct only if  it is guaranteed that

      f' (extend x, extend y)  = extend (trunc (f' (extend x, extend y)))

This would mean that high-precision operation would have to limit 
themselves to low-precision
if both operands have the form of a low-precision number (= were 
created by extending a low-
precision number).  Clearly this is not how we want high-precision 
arithmetic to work (and,
consequently, IEEE-754 doesn't).

My point was that the bits that are not represented are to be 
interpreted as containing neither
0 nor 1 but "?".  Any "coercion" that replaces some of these ? with 
either 0 or 1 is not
an information-preserving operation.  Since *all* ways of extending 
32-bit to 64-bit involve adding
either 0s or 1s, none of these can be information-preserving.  Under 
this view,  32-bit
is not a subtype of 64-bit (even under a coercion-based explanation of 


(*) There are also 3 extra bits in the exponent.  The exponent is 
slightly better behaved since,
indeed, non-represented bits are to be interpreted as 0.  However, even 
here things break down
if you look closely enough -- because of underflow and the associated 
effect of denormalization
on the one hand and infinities on the other.