Monday, January 18, 2016

On the Two Sides of the Atlantic in Logic and Computation (contribution by Moshe Y. Vardi)

Prompted by a reference to it in a recent CACM editorial by Moshe Vardi, I belatedly read the very interesting piece on logic activities in Europe that Yuri Gurevich wrote in 1992. I was struck by the idea that it might be interesting to ask some selected colleagues to contribute (short) opinion pieces to the Bulletin of the EATCS reflecting on the points raised by Yuri in that article twenty years later. 
In order to whet your appetite, I post below Moshe's contribution. Thanks to Moshe for taking the time to write this piece and for allowing me to share it on this blog. Enjoy it! 


On the Two Sides of the Atlantic in Logic and Computation
Rice University

In his 1977 EWD Note 611, “On the fact that the Atlantic Ocean has twosides,” Edsger Dijkstra noted the different attitudes towards computing research in Northern America and Western Europe. Yuri Gurevich noted the same phenomenon in his 1992 report, "Logic Activities inEurope." In a 2015 Communications of the ACM editorial I revisited this issue and asked “Why Doesn't ACM Have a SIG for Theoretical ComputerScience?"
The key issue raised in that editorial was the split between Volume-A-type and Volume-B-type research in Theoretical Computer Science (TCS), referring to the 1990 Handbook of Theoretical Computer Science, with Jan van Leeuwen as editor. The handbook consisted of Volume A, focusing on algorithms and complexity, and Volume B, focusing on formal models and semantics. In other words, Volume A is the theory of algorithms, while Volume B is the theory of systems (hardware and software). North American TCS tends to be quite heavily focused on Volume A, while European TCS tends to encompass both Volume A and Volume B. The ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT) is, de facto, a special-interest group for Volume-A TCS.
I pointed out in my editorial that this division did not exist prior to the 1980s. In fact, the tables of contents of the proceedings of two North American premier TCS conferences—IEEE Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS) and ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC)---from the 1970s reveal a surprisingly (from today's perspective) high level of Volume-B content. In the 1980s, the level of TCS activities in North America grew beyond the capacity of two annual single-track three-day conferences, which led to the launching of what was known then as "satellite conferences." Shedding the "satellite" topics allowed FOCS and STOC to specialize and develop a narrower focus on TCS. But this narrower focus in turn has influenced what is considered TCS in North America. In contrast, the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science (EATCS), expanded the scope of its flagship conference, the International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP), by reorganizing the conference along several tracks. In 2015, ICALP consisted of three tracks: Track A: Algorithms, Complexity and Games; Track B: Logic, Semantics, Automata and Theory of Programming; and Track C: Foundations of Networked Computation: Models, Algorithms and Information Management. The reorganization along tracks allowed EATCS to broaden its scope, rather than narrow it like SIGACT.
But the reality is that if one zooms into Volume-B research, one finds again the Volume-A/Volume-B dichotomy, also reflected in the range of topics of the Symposium on Logic in Computer Science (LICS), the flagship conference of the ACM Special Interest Group on Logic and Computation (SIGLOG). Sub-volume A of Volume-B research is concerned with connections between logic, algorithms, and computational complexity. Descriptive-Complexity Theory, for example, aims at bridging computational complexity and logic by studying the expressive power needed to describe problems in given complexity classes. A celebrated result in this area is Fagin’s Theorem, which relates NP to Existential Second-Order Logic. Model Checking, as another example, studies the evaluation of logical formalisms, including various temporal logics, over finitely represented structures. Automata theory often provides tools to bridge between logic and algorithms. The B├╝chi-Elgot-Trakhtenbrot Theorem, for example, provides automata-theoretic tools for solving the satisfiability problem for Monadic Second-Order Logic on finite words.
Sub-volume B of Volume-B research, in contrast, is concerned with semantical and methodological foundations for programming and programming languages. Domain theory, for example, studies special kinds of partially ordered sets called domains. Domain theory is used to specify denotational semantics, especially for functional programming languages. Category theory, as another example, formalizes mathematical structure and its concepts in terms of a collection of objects and of arrows (also called morphisms). Category theory provides powerful modeling idioms and has deep connections to types in programming languages. Concurrency theory studies formalisms for modeling and analyzing concurrent systems. Proof Theory is of major interest in Sub-volume B of Volume B research, and a distinguished result is the Curry–Howard Correspondence, which provides a direct relationship between types in computer programs and formal proofs in certain logics.
The split between Sub-volumes A and B within Volume-B research can perhaps be traced to the standard division of mathematical Logic into several branches: computability theory, model theory, proof Theory, and set Theory. (See the 1989 Handbook of Mathematical Logic, with John Barwise as editor.) While set theory has no clear computer-science counterpart, Sub-volume A of Volume-B research can be traced to computability theory and model theory, while Sub-volume B of Volume-B research can be traced to proof theory. Indeed, a scientific discipline, as it grows and matures, inevitably grows branches, which gradually grow apart from each other. As scientists are forced to go deeper, it becomes gradually impossible for them to keep track of developments in more than a very small number of branches. In fact different branches develop their own specialized languages, impeding communication between branches.
It is often at the interfaces between branches, however, that the most exciting developments occur. Consider Artificial Intelligence, for example. Since the establishment of the field in the late 1950s, logic has played a key role as the fundamental formalism for describing reasoning. Ultimately, however, logical tools were not fully adequate to capture the common-sense reasoning that characterizes human reasoning. In the 21st Century, probabilistic and statistical approaches have become dominant, for example, in machine learning. Synthesizing the logical and probabilistic approaches is a new frontier, where I expect to see many exciting developments in the next few years.
Finally, while 25 years ago computing-research took place mostly in North America and Western Europe, computing research has since globalized. The Atlantic Ocean is no longer as dominant as it used to be. I look forward to the day when we will write about “The Two Sides of the Pacific/Indian Ocean in Logic and Computation.”

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