Warren Sack – The Software Arts


The MIT Press, ISBN: 978-0262039703, English, 400 pages, 2019, USA

The historical transformation that information technology – and software in particular – has brought to almost all human activities has yet to be fully understood. The transformative impact of software is not limited to its technical infrastructure, but extends to underlying transformations to the way we think, from the linguistics of computer programming to the recognition of a ‘digital intelligence’. We should think of software, as John Rajchman defines it in the preface to this book, as “a mode of thinking”. “The Software Arts” has taken a long time to complete. Now here, it traces the history of how software has been perceived and defined by programmers and engineers, with the core idea that “the arts are at the heart of computing”. It is developed in a number of chapters that look at texts about software through the lens of the trivium: Logic, Rhetoric and Grammar. One of the strongest discussions in this book concerns the translation of “analogue processes into a piece of software”, and what is omitted in the process, producing a loss, change or gain in meaning. This process has direct cultural consequences, ones triggered by the conceptual structure of the software itself. This is just one part of the fascinating journey that this book takes through the history of software ideas.