Friday, January 27, 2017

ChatOps, DevOps, Pipes and Chomsky

ChatOps is an area I am watching closely, not because I have a core focus on DevOps per se, but because Conversational User Interfaces is a very interesting area to me and ChatOps is part of that.

Developers - as a gene pool - have a habit of developing very interesting tools and techniques for doing things that save time down in the "plumbing". Deep down the stack where no end-user ever treads.

Some of these tools and techniques stay there forever. Others bubble up and become important parts of the end-user-facing feature sets of applications and/or important parts of the application architecture, one level beneath the surface.

Unix is full of programs, patterns etc. that followed this path. This is from Doug McIllroy in *1964*

"We should have some ways of coupling programs like garden hose--screw in another segment when it becomes when it becomes necessary to massage data in another way."

That became the Unix concept of a bounded buffer "pipe" and the now legendary "|" command line operator.

For a long time, the Unix concept of pipes stayed beneath the surface. Today, it is finding its way into front ends (graphics editing pipelines, audio pipelines) and into applications architectures (think Google/Amazon/Microsoft cloud-hosted pipelines.)

Something similar may happen with Conversational User Interfaces. Some tough nuts might end up being cracked down in the plumbing layers by DevOps people, for their own internal use, and then bubble up....

The one that springs to mind is that we will need to get to the point where hooking in new sources/sinks into ChatBots doesn't involve breaking out the programming tools and the API documentation. The CUI paradigm itself might prove to be part of the solution to the integration problem.

For example, what if a "zeroconf" for any given component was that you could be guaranteed to be able to chat to it - not with a fully fledged set of application-specific dialog commands, but with a basis set of dialog components from which a richer dialog could be bootstrapped.

Unix bootstrapped a phenomenal amount of integration power from the beautifully simple concept of standard streams for input, output and error. A built-in lingustic layer on top of that for chatting about how to chat, is an interesting idea. Meta chat. Talks-about-talks. That sort of thing.

Dang, just as Chomsky's universal grammar seems to be gathering dissenters...:-)