PhD Defense: Christopher Hall, "A New Human-Readability Infrastructure: Structured Data as a Visual Programming Language"

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 - 10:00am
1132 Harold Frank Hall
A New Human-Readability Infrastructure: Structured Data as a Visual Programming Language
Christopher Hall
Tobias Hollerer (Chair), Tevfik Bultan, and Chandra Krintz


In the 1960s, computers used electromechanical typewriters to interface with humans. That legacy is alive today. Formats that need to be able to have a direct relationship with users have been stuck with essentially one option - encoding their structure indirectly via ad hoc patterns of co-opted printable characters.

We present Infra, a new baseline medium for representing data. With Infra, arbitrarily-complex structured data can be encoded, viewed, edited and processed, all within a parsed paradigm. It is suitable for the full range of information modalities, from free-form input, to compact schema-conforming binary-encoded structures. With its own equivalent of a text editor and text field widget, Infra is designed to target the domain currently dominated by flat character strings while simultaneously enabling the expression of sub-structure, inter-reference, dynamic dependencies, abstraction, computation, and context (metadata).

We show how the new level of organization Infra brings to data makes a new non-textual programming paradigm viable. Programs that modify data can now be embedded into the data itself. Furthermore, these programs can often be authored by demonstration. We argue that Infra can be used to improve existing software projects and that bringing direct authoring and human readability to a binary data paradigm could have rippling ramifications on the computing landscape.

Everyone welcome!