Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Look Back at a 1966 Scientific American Article on Systems Analysis

by Peter Norvig.

As a teenager in the early 1970s, I enjoyed going up to the attic and looking through old stacks of Scientific American magazines. …the issue that had the biggest effect on me was the September 1966 on Information (which I read about 40 years ago).
In this essay I’ll concentrate on one article from the issue: Christopher Strachey‘s contribution on “System Analysis and Programming.” At the time I had seen only a few snippets of BASIC code—nothing more than a few lines. This short article by Strachey was my first introduction to a high-level programming language and the first non-trivial program I’d ever read: a checkers-playing program. When I rediscovered this article recently, I was surprised to find two things: (1) the programming language and programming style are thoroughly modern, and (2) there is a serious mismatch between the design and the implementation, or the systems analysis and programming as Strachey calls it.