Develop of Computer Languages

Development of written languages, alphabet-based in particular, gave humans the ability to efficiently share information on a much grander scale than was ever before possible. This innovation not only allowed for humans to share across generations, but also across cultures, and thus accelerated the collective learning capacities of our societies at exponential speed. Ultimately, the information that can be communicated and learned through writing is as limitless, or limited, as the language allows.

Written language is any structured, rules-oriented system for constructing words and combinations of words into sentences to communicate information to an individual literate in that language.

The meaning of individual and combined words are the semantics of a language, whereas the rules and constructs that govern the combining of those words into grammatical sentences—and through which words and phrases can acquire contextual and infinitely refined meanings—are the syntax of the language.

Traditionally, human languages—commonly referred to as natural languages—are used to exchange information directly from one human being to another.

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But when circumstances or efficiencies dictate, we routinely employ interpreters as intermediaries to facilitate the exchange between people who do not share a common language between them. Historically, our interpreters obviously needed to be humans, but that is no longer of necessity in the digital age. The non-human technologies of today (e.g., computers, the internet, and Google Translate), are created and enabled just through coding and programming languages. Another example of these non-human devices employed in the stream of information exchange comes directly from military application, where encryption devices have been used for hundreds of years to encode written language in order to intentionally and temporarily mask a writing’s true meaning until it can later be safely decoded back to its natively recognizable format.

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It’s worth noting that these technologies, to an extent, are nothing categorically new. Non-human devices have long been utilized, albeit quite differently, in the chain of information exchanges between humans to generally either work around some obstacle that stood in the way of an otherwise efficient communication process or to circumvent some situational reality that would otherwise compromise the communication’s purpose or value. Aboriginal drums, American Indian smoke signals, the Gutenberg printing press, 20th century telegraph machines, televisions, and cell phones are all worthy examples of intermediaries that were or are employed to accomplish efficient or mass means of disseminating/understanding information where distance, space, time, or practicality prevent direct communication.

As a global enterprise, the U.S. Air Force has a long history of recognizing the critical significance and value of employees who have secondary, non-English language proficiencies. Historically and continually, we actively seek to attract and retain personnel who, 1.) have evident aptitudes to learn foreign languages and, 2.) have existing foreign language fluencies. Primarily, the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) is offered to measure an individual’s linguistic aptitude. Recruits and existing military personnel who score passing grades qualify for foreign language training and educational opportunities. Similarly, the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) is offered to measure an individual’s existing fluency level in one or more identified and needed foreign languages. Those who score passing grades qualify for certain duty assignments where a specific language other than English is deemed valuable or mission critical. They also can receive Foreign Language Proficiency Pay (FLPP) commensurate with their specific secondary language and their level of fluency.

Currently, however, none of the testing or incentivized programs outlined above measure or reward individuals who have proficiency or fluency in any computer-based language at scale. We need to correct that holdover from an earlier analog age, and we need to do so quickly. It is mission critical, across the entire enterprise.

With this issue in mind, I assert that the United States Air Force should take the steps of formally recognizing “computer languages” as equivalents of all other human languages and treat them commensurately. As we continue to integrate the emerging technologies of the digital and information age, we must recognize the simple reality that information, of all categories and types, is increasingly created, obtained, exchanged and analyzed via computer use and computer technologies. Consequently, the languages of computers themselves—computer languages—are as critically significant to the needs of the Air Force as any other non-native languages. Languages like Python, Java, and C++, etc. each have their own unique vocabularies and sets of grammatical and construct rules just like any other.

While computer programming languages will never be anyone’s native language, no one can argue that in today’s computer driven age of information, these languages are becoming extraordinarily useful as, essentially, true secondary language skills. In fact, there are a growing number of movements and mandates in state legislatures and boards of education across the country to give computer programming skills and fluencies equally weighted academic credit as any traditional, foreign language (Galvin, 2016). The public debate between conventionalists and modernists on the topic is on-going and the Air Force will face a very similar discourse in terms of implementation on current accession, training, sustainment, and utilization models.

From a perspective of cultural embrace, which is critical to change management in any organization, there are a number of logical fallacies that take root when discussing the merits of leveraging our organizational language model to manage coding/programming languages. Generally speaking, logical fallacies against this contemporary approach are appeals to tradition, arguments from consequence, default biases, either/or reasoning, and slippery slope arguments.

For the concise purposes of this analysis, the most destructive argument is an amalgamation of the fallacies listed above which are commonly conveyed in a sentiment akin to, “Computers should not replace humans and thus we should not measure and reward coding/programming since it will generate or provide more opportunities for Airmen to leave the Air Force earlier.” While this argument is wholly illogical on its face, it is the first issue at hand to address because it results in the current institutional views of coding/programming as highly specialized activities only uniquely reserved for professionals in field(s) like intelligence, communications, and cyber support/operations. However, these skills are equally applicable to every aspect of every career field, but its impact is stifled from affecting the full spectrum of Air Force activities. Without recognizing that languages of the future can also be the languages of machines, the Air Force does not have the imperative to wholly deal with the realities of the digital age.

As the National Defense Strategy (NDS) makes unequivocally clear, “We are in an age of great power competition…and we must operate at the speed of relevance,” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2018). There are a multitude of issues that underpin the reasons for this, but the democratization of technology, particularly in this sphere, is a significant reason for this return to an earlier age. This is evidenced by China’s skyrocketing investment in education on the topics of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM), which accounted for 30% of investments in the first half of 2018 alone (Deloitte China, 2018). Furthermore, driven by China’s national AI roadmap, in the summer of 2018, photographs surfaced of a 33-volume artificial intelligence (AI) textbook released by the China Education Technology Association Smart Learning Committee for 100 schools (Peng, 2018). We are putting it lightly to just say that China, alongside other competitors, are having a “Sputnik Moment.”

There is no such thing as sustained comparative advantage and in order for the United States to keep up with this reality, similar to the National Defense Education Act of 1958, we will need to take a whole-of-government approach, catalyzed by the Air Force. There are reasonable concerns that we may lose greater numbers of Airmen to competing financial opportunities in the private sector by institutionally upskilling them, or that this will increase our appropriations budget to military personnel (MILPERS), but the more pressing question is “What happens if we do not recognize and prioritize action on these critical languages?”

By taking the step of formally recognizing computer languages as future and functional equivalents of all other human language, the Air Force will signal to the world that we not only understand the changing realities of the information age, but that we are also at the forefront of cultural modernization and relevancy. It will signal to prospective members and existing personnel that we will always value our human element and provide dynamic and contemporary career opportunities. It will signal to the country’s private sector that we are no longer steeped in industrial-age constraints and that we can be counted upon as a contributing innovative partner. Most importantly, it will help us cultivate and better manage our greatest asset, our people.

As a basic matter, we should identify and incentivize those amongst us who can fluently speak the operative languages of our changing times. “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” (Wittgenstein, 1933) will ring forever truer if we do not shift our current language management paradigm.

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Develop of Computer Languages. (2021, Oct 14). Retrieved from

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