The von Neumann Bottleneck

Surely there must be a less primitive way of making big changes in the store than by pushing vast numbers of words back and forth through the von Neumann bottleneck. Not only is this tube a literal bottleneck for the data traffic of a problem, but, more importantly, it is an intellectual bottleneck that has kept us tied to word-at-a-time thinking instead of encouraging us to think in terms of the larger conceptual units of the task at hand. Thus programming is basically planning and detailing the enormous traffic of words through the von Neumann bottleneck, and much of that traffic concerns not significant data itself, but where to find it.

John Bauckus in his ACM Turing Award speech, 1977

This is becoming the mantra for my research; it is the simplest possible cogent explanation of why a LARs-like design is important, overdue, and just plain cool. Especially interesting is that the need for such a design was obvious to forward thinking computer folks in 1977, but until now it has only been seriously tackled as a problem for software tools on top of von Neumann style hardware, rather than a cause to change design of the hardware itself. I suspect this quote will find it’s way into the into the introduction of my master’s thesis when the time comes.

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