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Last time I talked a bit about ABTs; in particular, I introduced the notion of strongly-typed ABTs (or "GABTs" if you prefer) and showed how we can extend the basic idea of ABTs to guarantee well-typedness in addition to well-aritiedness. However, I also made a note that ensuring this sort of well-typedness runs counter to what Neel and other CMUers often do. One of my colleagues here at IU noticed the reason, so I thought I'd write a bit more about it.

The issue at stake here is how general we can make our ABT library, to minimize the amount of boilerplate needed whenever inventing a new language. By encoding object-language type systems into the kinding of the ABT, we restrict the the possible object languages we can use the ABT implementation for (namely those object languages with type systems that can be embedded into whatever kinding the ABT has). To put a finer point on it, using the kinds presented in the previous post you cannot have binders in your type system. (Edit 2016.02.29: actually the details are more complicated.) This means no System F, and no dependent types. This is unfortunate as the whole point of ABTs is to capture binding structure once and for all!

However, I'd like to reiterate that, for our purposes in Hakaru this limitation is no restriction. Hakaru is simply-typed, so there are no type-level binders in sight. Moreover, we do a lot of program transformations in Hakaru. By using GABTs we can have GHC verify that our program transformations will never produce Hakaru code which is ill-typed, and that our program transformations will always produce Hakaru code of an appropriate type (e.g., the same type as the input term, for things like partial evaluation; but we have a number of type-changing transformations too). Thus, even though our GABT library could not be reused for implementing languages with type-level binders, it still provides a substantial benefit for those languages without type-level binders.

Although our GABTs cannot handle type-level binders, that does not mean we're restricted to only working with simply typed languages. For example, intersection types are not usually thought of as "simple types"; but they do not require binders and so they're fine. More generally, Larry Moss is engaged in a research project where he asks, "given infinite time, how far could Aristotle have gotten in logic?" By which he means, given the Aristotelian restriction to syllogistic logics (i.e., ones without the quantifiers introduced by Frege), what are the limits in what we can cover? It turns out that we can cover quite a lot. Some syllogistic logics go beyond the power of the "Peano–Frege" boundary: they can handle comparing cardinality of sets! A good pictorial summary of this line of research is on slide 2 of this talk; and a bit more about the complexity results is given in this talk (the requisite picture is on slide 39).


Edit 2016.02.29: In actuality, there's nothing inherent in type theory that prohibits having type-level binders for our object language; it's a limitation in GHC. In particular, GHC doesn't allow lifting GADTs into data kinds. If we could lift GADTs, then we could simply use ABTs to define the syntax of object-language type expressions, and lift those to serve as the type indices for using ABTs to define the syntax of object-language term expressions. This stratified approach is sufficient to handle System F and any other non-dependent quantifiers. To go further and handle dependent quantifiers as well, we'd also need to be able to define the object-language's terms and types in a mutually inductive way.

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