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Computer Program Fixes Old Code Faster Than Expert Engineers

By MIT News

July 15, 2015

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed Helium, a program designed to automatically fix existing code without requiring the original source.

Helium can achieve in hours or minutes what would take human engineers months, according to MIT professor Saman Amarasinghe. "A system like this can help companies make sure that the next generation of code is faster, and save them the trouble of putting 100 people on these sorts of problems," he says.

The CSAIL team started with binary code with debug symbols removed, and Helium enabled the researchers to lift stencil kernels from the stripped binary and reconfigure them as high-level representations that are readable in Halide, a programming language designed for image processing. "Because stencils do the same computation over and over again, we are able to accumulate enough data to recover the original algorithms," says MIT graduate student Charith Mendis.

The researchers determined Helium can enhance the performance of certain Photoshop filters by 75 percent, and the performance of less optimized programs such as Microsoft Windows' IrfanView by 400 to 500 percent.

The Helium research was presented last month in a paper at ACM's SIGPLAN conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation in Portland, Ore.

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