What Has Literature to Offer Computer Science?

Mark Dougherty


In this paper I ask the question: what has literature to offer computer science? Can a bilateral programme of research be started with the aim of discovering the same kind of deep intertwining of ideas between computer science and literature, as already exists between computer science and linguistics? What practical use could such results yield? I begin by studying a classic forum for some of the most unintelligible pieces of prose ever written, the computer manual. Why are these books so hard to understand? Could a richer diet of metaphor and onomatopoeia help me get my laser printer working? I then dig down a little deeper and explore computer programs themselves as literature. Do they exhibit aesthetics, emotion and all the other multifarious aspects of true literature? If so, does this support their purpose and understandability? Finally I explore the link between computer code and the human writer. Rather than write large amounts of code directly, we encourage students to write algorithms as pseudo-code as a first step. Pseudo-code tells a story within a semi-formalised framework of conventions. Is this the intertwining we should be looking for?


literature; literary studies; semantics; meta-knowledge; artificial intelligence (AI); programming

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