A universal and accessible library of every code ever produced to enter a new digital era
Big Code Lab is the research project funded by IFAB that seeks to drive the software world into the future
The digital revolution is all around us and continuously transforming: the use of technology and web infrastructures is part of daily life for the majority of people on the planet. All digital devices – from the simplest to the most complex, from the smartphone in our pockets to super computers – operate thanks to the common language of code. It is code that teaches machines, gets them to work, ensures that they have an impact on us and the society in which we live. Code is what lies behind the social relations triggered by a “like” on social media, behind the Spotify algorithm that suggests songs we might like; code gets the programmes of our computer to work, enables our robot vacuum to find its way around the house, allows doctors to accurately diagnose illnesses, enables cars to drive themselves and sends people into space. Though it may appear relatively unimportant, code has a continuous, concrete and tangible impact on our lives.
With this in mind, and because of its continually changing nature, the “Big Code Lab” project, funded by IFAB, has been launched thanks to the partnership between the ENEA Research Centre of Bologna and INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique) of Le Chesnay-Rocquencourt in France. The project aims to create a replica – or “mirror” to the use the correct jargon – of the world code archive, “Software Heritage”, created by INRIA. This will enable Italy, the Region of Emilia-Romagna and academics and professionals from the sector to have a continuously up-to-date copy of all the libraries of code that have been stored in the archive until now: a vast expanse of data and information which, in purely numerical terms, consists of over 11 billion files connected with approximately 168 million projects.
The project has two main goals. The first is to contribute to the creation of a global archive of all code that has ever been developed, through the cataloguing and conservation of this vast wealth of human knowledge, which will continue to increase exponentially day by day (the participation of UNESCO in the development of the project is quite significant).
The second is to make the archive widely available and useful, providing libraries of code to the software industry and anyone else interested, as part of the improvement, evolution and innovation of the entire digital sector, with all its applications in society. The existence of Software Heritage and the possibility of sharing open up infinite opportunities for the entire software engineering sector: in fact, beginning with the existing libraries of code in the archive it will be possible to speed up the creation of new code making a big difference in particular in the field of Big Code which studies languages thanks to the precious help of neural networks.
In other words, the “Big Code Lab” project aims to make the sharing of a global archive of code – already of enormous value in itself in terms of the conservation of human knowledge – a key factor for the evolution and innovation of all that is “digital”: last but not least, it wants to take advantage of the huge opportunity represented by the creation of Software Heritage to improve and increase the efficiency of the innumerable practical applications of software in people’s lives and society.