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At IBM Rational User Conference: I have seen the future and it is Booch

[GRAPEVINE, TEXAS] -- The future of the world will involve more software, but not necessarily more coding, IBM Fellow Grady Booch asserted at the IBM Rational User Conference 2004 in a keynote alternately historical and futuristic.

Booch's presentation provided something of a backgrounder on the history of computing -- from Hollerith cards to ENIAC and Java -- while looking forward to developments forecasted for the next 30 years. The grab bag of the future includes development of nano-technology, more use of biometrics, more surveillance cameras in cities near you, and the end of military air fighters piloted by humans.

Booch's future included many welcome events as well as cautionary ones. Among the good stuff: On-demand printing, news and entertainment over the Web, and complete photorealism in motion pictures.

"What gave me chills reviewing this was that every advance requires software that has not yet been written," said Booch.

In the 2030s, the system will be continuously evolving, and, he said, "you never turn it off." Around that time, Moore's law, which has served as a guide for silicon IC evolution, will expire. "We will be down to the level where quantum effects come in," said Booch.

"That means [programmers] can't be as sloppy, and we will need greater and greater parallelism." Storage, however, will be no problem. "We will have a petabyte of main memory, and an exabyte of external memory," he said. Moreover, Booch continued, "form factors will change such that most personal computers will be wearable or embedded. And most of the software we see in that timeframe will be embedded.

"In the future, most programmers will write in algorithmic snippets in the context of a sea of objects. We will see legacy XML, Java, C++ and UML persist," said Booch, and new languages will arrive. Domain-specific frameworks and languages will emerge, he said, and, taking a jab at a troubled IBM rival, added that "Java is not the last language -- although it may be [Sun Microsystems' Chairman and CEO] Scott McNealy's last language."

Booch said many of the frameworks of the future will be built upon UML semantics, and that aspect-oriented programming will be mainstream. In terms of algorithmic breakthroughs, he said turbo algorithms like those used to create high-resolution photos in the Cassini Saturn probe will gain traction.

Booch's research uncovered an international decline in people entering colleges for computer science degrees. He suggested that these declines could be offset in 2030 by non-programmer domain experts who, as they have in the past, learn to create software. "I think we will only see incremental improvements in the programmer experience itself," he said.

Futuristic presentations like Booch's were once part and parcel of technical conferences. That hasn't been the case in recent years, as the technology sector has been recovering from 'too much future.' Perhaps the return of such sessions gives reason for optimism as time (and now technology) marches on (again).

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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