My First Brainf*ck

fuck

There was a time – not too long ago – that a ‘my first computer’ required the use of machine code and an understanding of binary. While an introduction to computers is now just how to put a Raspberry Pi image on an SD card, a few people are keeping the dream of memorizing opcodes alive. One such person is [Johan von Konow], creator of My First Brainfuck, an ultra small, low-cost programmable computer.

My First Brainfuck is an Arduino shield designed to have all the features of a normal computer, but without all those messy mnemonics that make assembly programming so easy. This computer is programmed in Brainfuck, a purposely obtuse programming language that, while being incredibly esoteric and difficult to program in, can be very, very rewarding.

[Johan] has a short tutorial showing how his computer works and how the Brainfuck language operates. There are only eight commands in Brainfuck, perfect for such a minimal user interface, but with enough patience, nearly anything can be written in this difficult language.

Right now there are a few examples showing how to play a scale on the on-board buzzer, displaying a Larson scanner on the LEDs, and a few more programs will be published in the future.

Interpreting Brainf*#k on an AVR

brainfuck

We won’t call it useless, but we will ask why [Dan] wrote a brainfuck interpreter for the AVR

It’s not generating code for the AVR; think of it more as a bootloader. To run a brainfuck program, [Dan] uploads it to the EEPROM inside his ATMega32, after which the microcontroller takes over and starts performing whatever instruction the brainfuck program tells it to do. Because the whole thing runs off the EEPROM, the code size is limited to 1022 bytes. Enough for any brainfuck program written by a human, we think.

As for why [Dan] would want an AVR to build an interpreter for a language that is nearly unreadable by humans, we honestly have no idea other than the common, ‘because it’s there’ sentiment. There are some pretty cool projects out there that use brainfuck, including this genetic algorithm software developer. Right now, though, blinkey LEDs are enough to keep us happy, so you can see a video of brainfuck doing its thing on a LED bar display after the break.

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Genetic algorithms become programmers themselves

AI

[Kory] has been experimenting with genetic algorithms. Normally we’d expect his experiments to deal with tuning the variables in a control system or something, but he’s doing something much cooler. [Kory] is using genetic algorithms to write computer programs, and in the process bringing us one step closer to the Singularity.

The first experiments with genetic algorithms generating applications did so in BASIC, C, and other human-readable languages. While these programs nearly worked, there were far too many limitations on what could be produced with a GA. A simpler language was needed, and after turning to assembly for a hot second, [Kory] ended up using brainfuck, an extremely minimal but still Turing-complete language.

The use of brainfuck for creating programs from a genetic algorithm may seem a bit strange, but there’s a method to [Kory]‘s madness. It’s relatively simple to write an interpreter the GA’s fitness function can look into and come up with a score of which programs should breed and which should die. Also, the simplicity of brainfuck means a computer doesn’t have to learn much syntax and grammar at all.

Right now, [Kory]‘s computer that can program itself only does so by creating simple ‘hello world’ programs. It should be possible, though, for this AI to create programs that take user input and generate an output, whatever that may be. Once [Kory] is able to have the computer generate its own fitness functions, though, the sky is the limit and the Singularity will be fast approaching.

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