[Numpy-discussion] [RFC] should we argue for a matrix power operator, @@?

Sturla Molden sturla.molden@gmail....
Mon Mar 17 05:15:23 CDT 2014

Personally I did not like @@ in the first place.


Nathaniel Smith <njs@pobox.com> wrote:
> Hi all,
> Here's the second thread for discussion about Guido's concerns about
> PEP 465. The issue here is that PEP 465 as currently written proposes
> two new operators, @ for matrix multiplication and @@ for matrix power
> (analogous to * and **):
>   http://legacy.python.org/dev/peps/pep-0465/
> The main thing we care about of course is @; I pushed for including @@
> because I thought it was nicer to have than not, and I thought the
> analogy between * and ** might make the overall package more appealing
> to Guido's aesthetic sense.
> It turns out I was wrong :-). Guido is -0 on @@, but willing to be
> swayed if we think it's worth the trouble to make a solid case.
> Note that question now is *not*, how will @@ affect the reception of
> @. @ itself is AFAICT a done deal, regardless of what happens with @@.
> For this discussion let's assume @ can be taken for granted, and that
> we can freely choose to either add @@ or not add @@ to the language.
> The question is: which do we think makes Python a better language (for
> us and in general)?
> Some thoughts to start us off:
> Here are the interesting use cases for @@ that I can think of:
> - 'vector @@ 2' gives the squared Euclidean length (because it's the
> same as vector @ vector). Kind of handy.
> - 'matrix @@ n' of course gives the matrix power, which is of marginal
> use but does come in handy sometimes, e.g., when looking at graph
> connectivity.
> - 'matrix @@ -1' provides a very transparent notation for translating
> textbook formulas (with all their inverses) into code. It's a bit
> unhelpful in practice, because (a) usually you should use solve(), and
> (b) 'matrix @@ -1' is actually more characters than 'inv(matrix)'. But
> sometimes transparent notation may be important. (And in some cases,
> like using numba or theano or whatever, 'matrix @@ -1 @ foo' could be
> compiled into a call to solve() anyway.)
> (Did I miss any?)
> In practice it seems to me that the last use case is the one that's
> might matter a lot practice, but then again, it might not -- I'm not
> sure. For example, does anyone who teaches programming with numpy have
> a feeling about whether the existence of '@@ -1' would make a big
> difference to you and your students? (Alan? I know you were worried
> about losing the .I attribute on matrices if switching to ndarrays for
> teaching -- given that ndarray will probably not get a .I attribute,
> how much would the existence of @@ -1 affect you?)
> On a more technical level, Guido is worried about how @@'s precedence
> should work (and this is somewhat related to the other thread about
> @'s precedence and associativity, because he feels that if we end up
> giving @ and * different precedence, then that makes it much less
> clear what to do with @@, and reduces the strength of the */**/@/@@
> analogy). In particular, if we want to argue for @@ then we'll need to
> figure out what expressions like
>    a @@ b @@ c
> and
>    a ** b @@ c
> and
>    a @@ b ** c
> should do.
> A related question is what @@ should do if given an array as its right
> argument. In the current PEP, only integers are accepted, which rules
> out a bunch of the more complicated cases like a @@ b @@ c (at least
> assuming @@ is right-associative, like **, and I can't see why you'd
> want anything else). OTOH, in the brave new gufunc world, it
> technically would make sense to define @@ as being a gufunc with
> signature (m,m),()->(m,m), and the way gufuncs work this *would* allow
> the "power" to be an array -- for example, we'd have:
>    mat = randn(m, m)
>    pow = range(n)
>    result = gufunc_matrix_power(mat, pow)
>    assert result.shape == (n, m, m)
>    for i in xrange(n):
>        assert np.all(result[i, :, :] == mat ** i)
> In this case, a @@ b @@ c would at least be a meaningful expression to
> write. OTOH it would be incredibly bizarre and useless, so probably
> no-one would ever write it.
> As far as these technical issues go, my guess is that the correct rule
> is that @@ should just have the same precedence and the same (right)
> associativity as **, and in practice no-one will ever write stuff like
> a @@ b @@ c. But if we want to argue for @@ we need to come to some
> consensus or another here.
> It's also possible the answer is "ugh, these issues are too
> complicated, we should defer this until later when we have more
> experience with @ and gufuncs and stuff". After all, I doubt anyone
> else will swoop in and steal @@ to mean something else! OTOH, if e.g.
> there's a strong feeling that '@@ -1' will make a big difference in
> pedagogical contexts, then putting that off for years might be a
> mistake.
> -n

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