Friday, September 3, 2010

Voyages of Discovery

A quick follow-up on my earlier post regarding programming and poetry.  An old friend, Jonas Karlsson, commented to me via Facebook:
Alas, we are still bound by the constraints of hardware, interface design, and computational complexity (and not to mention our own capabilities). We are not so much god-like creators, as explorers of the possibility-space.
This is a great counterpoint -- I went a little too far in stretching the analogy between programming and creation.  I think Jonas is right that programming is more like exploring.  Like Magellan or Columbus, we have limitations we must work around, so the space we explore is not infinite, though it appears exceedingly large.  There are so many things we can learn.

One of the ways computing explores the possibility-space is through simulation, in which a part of the world, or perhaps an imaginary world, is modeled and analyzed to answer questions about what might happen in a range of scenarios.  Simulations can be used to explore population genetics, predator-prey relationships, the weather, and many other important scientific and engineering topics. 

Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, UCAR created a simulation showing how the oil could spread, based on models of ocean currents:

Did the Age of Exploration ever end, or did we just move on to new frontiers?