Why Apple Developed the Swift Programming Language - Hint - Apple Car

Soon our cars will be semi- or fully autonomous. That will require the best minds on the planet, engineers and A.I. experts, to write highly error proof and secure code. Current computer languages are close, but earn no cigar and weren't designed for Apple's needs. What better than for Apple to invent its own language, Swift, and get the whole world to test it first?

Let me tell you a story....

One of my favorite military aircraft of all time was the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Take a great aluminum airframe, insert a powerful (for its time) J-79 turbojet engine, add analog instruments and radios, and include a 20 mm cannon, and you had a Mach 2 beauty of an air superiority fighter. But that was 1958.

Lockheed F-104 from the 1950s. Not a computer on board. But fast.

Today, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has over 8 million lines of code to debug and certify. That has caused many, many delays in the operational status of this aircraft. But this kind of evolution was inevitable in aircraft and is now coming to our cars. 

For example, in 1969, a Ford Mustang Mach I had a V-8 engine with a simple carburetor, a 4-speed transmission, drum brakes and a few instruments on the dash. (Zero airbags. Zero computers.) Lately, however, computers have been more and more a part of our automobiles. The article I'll link to next mentions that a current day Ford F150 truck has 150,000 lines of computer code. One can imagine an autonomous car from Apple in 2020 having several million lines of code. Hopefully, it'll all just work. ::gulp::

One has to wonder, I do, if Apple's Swift programming language was a necessary precursor to the "Titan" electric car Project. See, for example. "Interview: How to Write Secure Software, Guaranteed."

In that interview, I asked the CEO of Galois, Dr. Rob Wiltbank, whether some languages are better for secure code.

Dr. Wiltbank: There are definitely better languages. We happen to use one called Haskell. The reason is that Haskell is a very strongly typed language that forces constraints, and it checks for things along the way that have to do with how you express your intentions to the system. [emphasis added.] As a result, there are certain expressions that you cannot communicate to Haskell in an unclear manner.

Martellaro: I read that Apple's Swift language has some of its roots in Haskell.

Dr. Wiltbank: Yes. And Apple is definitely doing more and more with this kind of stuff. That is, eliminating design bugs very, very early in the process. Before you've even written a single line of code.

Of course, it's just a theory. But I ran across a CES article that makes me think it's a good one. Here's an article that echoes my thinking on computer technology and cars. "Self-driving cars won the week at CES 2016, with AI and big data the unsung heroes." To quote:

Perhaps the biggest challenge that existing automakers face in the race to autonomous vehicles is that these future cars are going to be shells for a lot of big data analytics, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. Those aren't areas that carmakers have as a core competency. While computers have been deeply embedding themselves in cars for more than a decade—Ford says there are over 150,000 lines of code in an F150—the kind of intelligence and machine learning that it will take to power a self-driving car is a whole different ballgame. Google and Tesla already have that baked into their DNA. Every automaker will have to change to become that kind of company.

It's a whole new game, and Apple appears to be betting that is can be one of the companies whose DNA can be included in the short list above along with Google and Tesla. Some traditional car companies won't have the technical and financial resources to keep up and will fade from view.

Future highly computerized autonomous cars will look the same on outside,
but be very different on the inside.

However, Apple's unique technology history and expertise puts it into a perfect position to forge a new marriage between computers and cars, just as aerospace companies already have done with computers and jet aircraft. [Note, Apple has James A. Bell, former president of the Boeing Company on its board.] That evolution would include, I surmise, creating a much improved programming language, Swift, and getting thousands of developers write and test millions of lines of code before it ever appears in an Apple car.

I like it.

Next: The Tech News Debris for the Week of January 11th. Science, analysis and bozos.

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of January 11th


Objective truth. A black hole can be beautiful
but also deadly.

The art of analyzing the high tech industry is very similar to the scientific technique. One can form theories (which are candidates for truth) and test them against market facts. Or one can just have opinions that appear to come from deep thought but, in the end, are just off-the-cuff. Here's what to look for in the analysts who cover Apple.

Writing about Apple requires connections, experience and research. Add a dose of intelligence and you get the complete package. That's why I'm a big fan of Daniel Eran Dilger's (AppleInsider ) insights into Apple.

In part I of "Apple's competition is going to have a tough year in 2016," Mr. Dilger looks at the weakness of Apple's competitors, especially makers of smartphone hardware. The author looks at the "feeding tube" effect of Android, funneling customers to iOS and the long term smartphone operating profit share. Recap: Apple has 94 percent. (One has to wonder how long Android can survive with the crumbling of the hardware makers.)

In Part II, "Apple's competition is going to have a tough year in 2016: part 2" the discussion expands to careful, fact-based analysis that leads to pitying the iPad and Apple Watch competitors.

This is in great contrast to some analysts who use opinion-based analysis to predict a dire future for Apple. Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt commented last week on "Why So Much Apple Commentary Is So Clueless" and pointed the finger at Trip Chowdhry with Global Equities Research who simply settled for calling Tim Cook a bozo. (My colleague, Bryan Chaffin, also had something to say about Mr. Chowdry. "Trip Chowdry's Newest Folly: Tim Cook Should Be Replaced by Jon Rubinstein."

For an explanation of these two approaches, one can turn to science itself. I'm referring to a very recent article at Quartz that explains: "There’s a good reason Americans are horrible at science." Too make it short (tl;dr), there are two distinct educational tracks in America. The first is science in which the long-standing technique of theory-prediction-experiment-adjust the theory is taught. The second is fact-based learning and memorization.

In the second case, without appeal to the concepts of science, it's all too easy for students to glean that science is simply a matter of consensus and opinion. That happens because the scientific education is arduous, indeed opaque to many. And in a world with vast communication resources and a multitude of voices, we learn that there are many different opinions.

And so, by the vast majority of the population, scientific conclusions based on measurements and testing, something that can be reproduced by anyone, deteriorates into what seems like simple opinion. In other words, the perception is that scientists do not have a consensus of opinion because they all agree on the experiments that validate theories. Rather, they just have opinions and they cling to each other for authoritative support.

What's more, the cold hard facts of nature, presented by experts can often be daunting, alarming, even offensive. When financial interests go against science, the findings of scientists are diminished and questioned by relegating them to the class of opinion. Today, it's a high art form to obtain power and then couch self-serving opinion as if it were deep analysis, reproducible with enough effort, but never is. 

And, as we know, one person's opinion is as good as any other's.

And that, gentle readers, is why there is a huge gulf between the analysis and expertise of Daniel Eran Dilger and the opinions of Trip Chowdry.

Moving on...

Have you heard of Aldebaran's "Pepper" personal robot shown at CES 2016? These small, cuddly, helpful robots that are not physically imposing will soon be amongst us.

"Pepper" the robot. Image credit: Aldebaran

Have you wondered why Microsoft is so anxious to pull the plug on Windows 8? Here's the chart that explains it.

For an interesting analysis of Apple, its products and stock, see: "The Two Apples." To quote:

Over the long run, Apple and AAPL will likely be at odds with each other due to the very nature of Apple's long-term mission of making products that people love. It is the classic Wall Street vs. Silicon Valley battle, and 2015 was likely just a taste of what is to come.

Over at Macworld , "The iTunes Guy," Kirk McElhearn looks at "15 years of iTunes: A look at Apple’s media app and its influence on an industry."

Finally, Glenn Fleishman, also at Macworld revisits the infamous OS X Gatekeep security flaw to see what's been done by Apple. Hint: not very much. Here's great background and explanation that brings us up to date. "Gatekeeper flaw remains exploitable four months after its discovery."


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.