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From Monitors to Monitors: A Primitive History

Troy Astarte

Minds and Machines

Swansea University Author: Troy Astarte

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Abstract

As computers became multi-component systems in the 1950s, handling the speed differentials efficiently was identified as a major challenge. The desire for better understanding and control of ‘concurrency’ spread into hardware, software, and formalism. This paper examines the way in which the problem...

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Published in: Minds and Machines
ISSN: 0924-6495 1572-8641
Published: Springer Science and Business Media LLC 2023
Online Access: Check full text

URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa63086
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Abstract: As computers became multi-component systems in the 1950s, handling the speed differentials efficiently was identified as a major challenge. The desire for better understanding and control of ‘concurrency’ spread into hardware, software, and formalism. This paper examines the way in which the problem emerged and was handled across various computing cultures from 1955 to 1985. In the machinic culture of the late 1950s, system programs called ‘monitors’ were used for directly managing synchronisation. Attempts to reframe synchronisation in the subsequent algorithmic culture pushed the problem to a higher level of abstraction; Dijkstra’s semaphores were a reaction to the algorithms’ complexity. Towards the end of the 1960s, the culture of ‘structured programming’ created a milieu in which Dijkstra, Hoare, and Brinch Hansen (among others) aimed for a concurrency primitive which embodied the new view of programming. Via conditional critical regions and Dijkstra’s ‘secretaries’, the co-produced ‘monitor’ appeared to provide the desired encapsulation. The construct received embodiment in a few programming languages; this paper ends by considering Modula and Concurrent Pascal.
Keywords: History of computing, History of computer science, Programming languages, Concurrency
College: Faculty of Science and Engineering
Funders: The Leverhulme Trust, RPG-2019-020