What is it about?

This paper is about determinism, the principle that every action is a consequence of its preconditions and that fixed rules uniquely determine these consequences. It considers the dual questions of whether the physical world is deterministic (a scientific question) and whether deterministic models are useful specifications for systems (an engineering question). I show that rich enough sets of deterministic models are incomplete, suggesting that nondeterminism is unavoidable in the physical world, but that nevertheless, deterministic models are extremely useful for engineering reliable systems in an unpredictable world.

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Why is it important?

Many engineering models are nondeterministic by accident rather than by intent, and this nondeterminism is often defended with observation that the physical world in which systems must operate is unpredictable. In this paper, I squash this argument and advocate for more use of deterministic models.


I have been obsessed throughout my 40-year career with more deterministic mechanisms for designing electronic systems. This paper justifies that obsession without shirking the nuances and subtleties around the subject.

Edward Lee
University of California at Berkeley

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This page is a summary of: Determinism, ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing Systems, July 2021, ACM (Association for Computing Machinery),
DOI: 10.1145/3453652.
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