Interfacing Iconicity - Addressing Software Divarication Through Diagrammatic Design Principles

Friday, September 28, 2018 - 8:00am to 9:00am
2265, Storey Innovation Center

THESIS DEFENSE
Department of Computer Science and Engineering

Author : George Akhvlediani
Advisor : Dr. Buell
Date : September 28th
Time : 10:00 am
Place : 2265, Storey Innovation Center

Abstract

This research examines conflicts accompanying the proliferation of computer technology and, more specifically, constellations of dependency in the always expanding volume of software, platforms, and the firms/individuals using them. We identify a pervasive phenomenon of “divarication” in the growing variety of progressively specialized systems and system roles. As software systems enter new thresholds of sophistication, they effectively aggregate many distinct components and protocols. Consequently, we are confronted with a diverse ecology of stratified and thereby incompatible software systems. Software inherits the limitations and potential flaws of its constituent parts, but unlike physical machinery, it isn’t readily disassembled in instances of failure. The individuals using these systems have no means to dissect and analyze their tools, and thus are necessarily dependent on developer assistance.
We assert that divarication is a consequence of interfacing, and particularly in the way computer interfaces operate as the sole point of contact between a user and a software system. Taking Charles S. Peirce’s three types of sign (the icon, index, and symbol) into special consideration, we observe that computer interfaces seldom employ iconic representation. In other words, these interfaces do not reflect the interior logic that drives them; they bear no resemblance to their referent(s). Merely “using” software doesn’t promise any insight into how that software works. We argue that this circumstance makes divarication inevitable. Opaque elements are assembled together into opaque wholes, and so the magnitude of this problem will likely scale with increasing software sophistication.
As the thesis title indicates, we bring Peirce’s notion of “iconicity” into accompaniment with “interfacing”, forming an abstract paradigm in response to divarication. We intend to infuse a software platform with a recurrent protocol of iconicity, to develop a platform that allows at least partial disassembly and examination of the programs it facilitates. We composed a diagrammatic design scheme; a blueprint for software platforms that might emulate “interfacing iconicity”. We developed a prototype platform, implementing this structural logic. This initial prototype is a rudimentary HTML rendering platform, one that articulates the relationship between plain-text code, its Document Object Model (DOM) representation, and the rendered “page” itself. Currently, this prototype is a useful analog for our argument. Since it offers a distinct perspective on the connections between text markup and its systemic interpretation, it may also have educational utility. However, it is not yet a fully realized implementation of our design paradigm, and at this stage a conclusion on whether the latter genuinely addresses divarication would be premature.