Dan Reed has added a post to his blog on one of my favorite topics: usability. As he points out, the way we interact with supercomputers today is still deeply rooted in the idea that computer time is more valuable than people time.
Because computing time was scarce and expensive, we devoted considerable human effort to manual debugging and optimization. (The subject of manual memory overlays before virtual memory shall remain for another day.) Today, of course, my wristwatch contains roughly as much computing power as that vintage university mainframe, and we routinely devote inexpensive computing time to minimize human labor. Or do we?
…Many of us are still wed to a stimulus-response model of computing, where humans provide the stimulus and computers respond in preprogrammed ways. For example, traditional web search (traditional indeed – how quickly the new becomes commonplace) requires typed or spoken search terms to initiate a search. In a world of plethora, computing could glean work, personal, and even emotional context, anticipating information queries and computing on behalf rather than in response. My computer could truly become my assistant.
Dr. Reed’s post isn’t specifically focused on HPC, but it applies equally well there. Everything from command line interfaces that provide no context to development environments that provide no cognitive support hark back to a day when the FLOPS was the rare commodity. It is well past time to begin evolving the HPC interaction paradigm from the model we adopted in 1969.