Re: [SystemSafety] Scalability of Formal Methods [was: Logic]

From: Patrick Graydon < >
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2014 03:00:56 +0100

On 26 Feb 2014, at 22:33, Peter Bernard Ladkin <ladkin_at_xxxxxx

> Fetzer is a red herring. His argument rests on an equivocation and admits of a trivial counterexample. Proved-correct is not a unary predicate of programs. What does "correct" mean, when speaking of programs? Answer: that it does what you want. So you have to have some idea of what you want, some specification. And then you may ask whether the program is correct wrt this specification. Or, as we may say, whether the program fulfils the specification. Correctness is (at least) a binary predicate, of which one argument is a program and another a specification of some kind, a saying-what-is-wanted.
> Fetzer claims to show that programs can never be proved correct. Here is a simple, trivial counterexample to that claim. Consider the specification "P OR (NOT P)", where "P" is any proposition you care to express. Constructivists, who may doubt excluded middle, may rather consider "NOT P OR (NOT NOT P)". Call this specification S. Take any program you like: Prog. There is a rigorous proof that Prog fulfils S. For the classical statement, the proof is a couple lines long (think of it as the two lines of the truth table); for the constructivist about double that.
> See? Logic helps. Here, in showing why somebody who is arguing that program verification should lose its research funding is canonically mistaken.
> Not that the CACM would print such a refutation. The editor's comment when I sent it in was that Fetzer's article was somewhat old (a couple of years); did I have a more contemporary contribution to CACM? That's when I realised the marketing people had taken over and I let my membership lapse.

My point in bringing up Fetzer’s article is that what I actually want to know is what my software will cause real chips to do in the real world. What you are telling me is that you can prove what the software means according to idealised semantics. I’m not even going to address that, because those are two different things … which is what I understood Fetzer to be saying. Unless you can somehow deductively prove the behaviour of a real, physical chip?

I don’t disagree that knowing what software will do according to idealised semantics is useful. But safety depends on knowing what will happen in the real world on real chips. And if you can’t prove that, then you need to bring in a different form of evidence to complete the picture. Some sort of inference based on observation. Testing, in other words.

As to Martyn’s point, I care much less about whether responsibility for completing the evidence about what the software will cause real chips to do in the real world lies with a person who calls himself or herself a software engineer or any other job title (or combination of titles). I care that the evidence *is* completed by someone. I think showing that the software is correct according to some abstract semantics is a useful goal … provided that somebody covers the other gaps. This begins with first being clear that those gaps exist. Since I have met several people who seemed to think that software proof was going to tell them what the real chips would do in all circumstances, I think a little reminder of what it does mean is useful from time to time.

— Patrick

Dr Patrick John Graydon
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
School of Innovation, Design, and Engineering (IDT) Mälardalens Högskola (MDH), Västerås, Sweden

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