Software GR Presents Stefan Karpinski: Julia – a fast dynamic language for technical computing

Julia is a high-level, high-performance dynamic language for scientific computing. It has been gaining traction as a faster alternative to Matlab, R and NumPy and as a more productive alternative to C, C++ and Fortran. Julia is particularly relevant when both expressiveness and performance are paramount – in areas like machine learning, “big statistics”, linear algebra, bioinformatics, and image analysis.

As a programming language, Julia has some unusual features. It’s a fully dynamic language, yet rather than the “no talking about types” approach that many dynamic languages have adopted, Julia has an expressive type system, complete with parametric and dependent types. This is no accident – talking about types is unavoidable in technical computing. But types aren’t just used to describing the structure and layout of data in Julia – they are also essential for expressing behavior. Programs are organized around multiple dispatch – generic functions can be defined piecewise for various combinations of argument types. This allows the polymorphic behaviors rampant in mathematical code – arithmetic operators, numeric promotions, array indexing – to be expressed clearly, extensibly, and in a way that the compiler can reason about. Traditionally, this kind of flexibility and abstraction have come at the cost of performance. But by a combination of dynamic data-flow type inference (not Hindley-Milner!), and just-in-time code generation with aggressive specialization on runtime types, Julia’s compiler manages to generate efficient, low-level code despite all the abstraction. This talk will include lots of live coding to demonstrate concepts and provide on-the-spot examples to help answer questions.

About Stefan

Stefan Karpinski is one of the co-creators and core developers of the Julia language. He is an applied mathematician and data scientist by trade, having worked at Akamai, Citrix Online, and Etsy, but currently is employed as a researcher at MIT, focused on advancing Julia’s design, implementation, documentation, and community.