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One reason I am cautious is that I saw an earlier language built on similar ideas, called R++, struggle to gain acceptance some 15 years ago. It did well for a major application, but repeatedly, enthusiastic people discovered [that] introducing major changes into their tool chains and processes was complicated and expensive, and that educating new developers was difficult and time-consuming. Naturally, aspect-oriented programming may avoid some of these problems, but to succeed it needs to dodge all, and more. In computer science, a major new idea will succeed only if it is sufficiently capable in every relevant area. To succeed on a large scale, a new language must be good enough in all areas (even some the language designer has never heard of), rather than just superb at one or two things (however important). This is a variant of the simple rule that to function, all essential parts of a machine must work; remove one, and the machine stops. The trick is to know which parts are essential. Please note that I’m not saying, “Aspect-oriented programming doesn’t work,” but to be “the next big thing,” you have to provide major gains in an enormously broad range of application areas.

All that said, I don’t know what the next major conceptual shift will be, but I bet that it will somehow be related to the management of concurrency. As programmers, we have been notoriously bad at thinking about lots of things happening simultaneously, and soon our everyday computers will have 32 cores.

You didn’t mention generic programming. It is definitely worth thinking about in this context. Over the last decade, it has made a major change to the way C++ libraries are designed and has already led to the addition of language features in Java and C#. I don’t think of generic programming as the “next paradigm,” because C++ has directly supported it since about 1990, and the C++ standard library crucially depends on it. What if the next big thing has already arrived and nobody (except programmers) noticed?

It’s worth noting, perhaps, that I don’t actually believe in a popular [use] of the word “paradigm” (that derives from Thomas Kuhn’s ideas in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) when it is applied to programming. I do not believe that a paradigm completely replaces previous paradigms in one revolutionary moment (or “shift”). Instead, each programming paradigm adds to what worked previously, and as a paradigm matures, it is increasingly integrated with previous paradigms. Kristen Nygaard was fond of saying that multiplication didn’t completely replace addition, and, by analogy, whatever would come after object-oriented programming would include object-oriented programming as a subset. I tend to agree. The evolution of C++ was guided by this view, and the evolution of Java and C# provides further examples.

TR: Computer languages remain generally difficult to learn. One might argue that for computers to become more than “helper” tools that enable mass computations and widespread communications, they must evolve again–and one key may be in simplifying the process of coding so that more individuals are able to participate in development.

BS: I think that would be misguided. The idea of programming as a semiskilled task, practiced by people with a few months’ training, is dangerous. We wouldn’t tolerate plumbers or accountants that poorly educated. We don’t have as an aim that architecture (of buildings) and engineering (of bridges and trains) should become more accessible to people with progressively less training. Indeed, one serious problem is that currently, too many software developers are undereducated and undertrained.

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