`VectorNumeric` Type: In General & `Complex` Numbers

Hey @scanon,

I have a follow up question to my previous question: Introducing Complex Numbers Update.

I have developed a prototype version of complex numbers as part of the Swift for TensorFlow project (can be found in the PR here). We have a VectorNumeric protocol as well which defines any object that can exist in a vector space (found here). With complex number vectors, the dot product behaves differently in that it's something like this:

func dot(lhs: Vector<Complex>, rhs: Vector<Complex>) -> Complex {
    var result = Complex(real: 0, imaginary: 0)
    for i in lhs.length {
        resultVector = resultVector + (lhs[i].complexConjugate() * rhs[i])
    return result

As such, we were debating on where complexConjugate should exist, and also about whether a VectorNumeric protocol is necessary.

  1. In general, do you think a VectorNumeric protocol is necessary? Or could we use something else or maybe a different protocol. As it seems like a protocol would be needed for the SIMD vectors we have, the Tensor type the S4TF team is adding, and any custom types users could add.

  2. Secondly, specifically regarding complex numbers, should Numeric refine VectorNumeric? The reason why is that complex numbers can be thought of as both a scalar value and a vector:

...complex numbers with the complex plane...makes their structure as a real 2-dimensional vector space evident. (wiki link)

Similarly, it could be argued that a real number is also a vector, except just a length 1 vector. Thus, could the Numeric protocol refine VectorNumeric? However, the biggest issue I see is ABI stability, which may prevent this.

  1. Lastly, also specific to complex numbers, should VectorNumeric define complexConjugate? This follows from the second question in that complex conjugate seems to only be defined on complex numbers, and in other cases it would just return self. However, depending on the answer for 2, since complex numbers are like a vector of sorts, then VectorNumeric could define it.

Because this is public discussion I will add my opinions:

  1. Do you think a VectorNumeric protocol is necessary?
    Yes, though perhaps not for the stdlib.
  2. Should Numeric refine VectorNumeric?
    Perhaps, if VectorNumeric is defined as it is in S4TF, but I do not think that protocol deserves the name "VectorNumeric".
  3. Should VectorNumeric define complexConjugate?
    Probably not, complexConjugate is an implementation detail, VectorNumeric should define dot(Self, Self) -> Scalar.

What I imagine for vector protocols is:

// what is currently in S4TF as `VectorNumeric`
public protocol Vectorial : AdditiveArithmetic {
  /// The type of scalars in the vector space.
  associatedtype Scalar : AdditiveArithmetic

  static func * (lhs: Scalar, rhs: Self) -> Self
  static func *= (lhs: inout Self, rhs: Scalar)

// if we had a protocol between `Numeric` and `FloatingPoint`
// that included failable divisibility (i.e. `divide(Self, Self) -> Self?`)
// (Namely the mathematical `Field` protocol)
// I would add that constraint to `Scalar` here, as that would enable
// implementations of `[sin|cos|tan]²AngleBetween(Self, Self) -> Scalar`
public protocol VectorNumeric : Vectorial {
  static func dot(_ lhs: Self, _ rhs: Self) -> Scalar

extension VectorNumeric {
  func isPerpendicular(to other: Self) -> Bool {
    return dot(self, other) == .zero

  /// because we cannot here guarantee that `Scalar: FloatingPoint`
  /// so `length` is not defaultable.
  var lengthSquared: Scalar {
    return dot(self, self)

extension VectorNumeric where Scalar: FloatingPoint {
  var length: Scalar {
    return lengthSquared.squareRoot()

The "complex numbers", when considered just as a real vector space, are really not the same thing as the actual complex numbers: they're isomorphic as groups, but the complex numbers are a field with an associated multiplicative operation that is not defined on R^2. In fact, a well-behaved multiplication doesn't even exist for many vector spaces (that's why the quaternions are only a division ring, not a field). So it's IMHO totally wrong to equate the two in any sort of way: yes, you can (and usually will) represent complex numbers as R^2, but you do different things on them and you do usually want to keep track of R^2 vectors and complex numbers separately.

The same goes for real numbers as 1-d real vectors; again you can do things to real numbers (e.g. dividing) that you don't want to do to vectors.

As for whether VectorNumeric should be a protocol ... the way I understand your definition it's just a vector space endowed with an inner product. Mathematically this is called an inner product space (or sometimes pre-Hilbert space, but that name is probably quite off-putting). I would be fine with having a type called e.g. DotProductSpace, but VectorNumeric sounds too much like Numeric, which is sort of like a ring, whereas a vector space with an inner product categorically isn't ("multiplying" two vectors gives you a scalar instead of a vector).

So my personal answer to your questions:

  1. Possibly, but not under the name VectorNumeric
  2. No, that would be mathematically very misleading
  3. Same. And also, IMHO you really don't want to have an operation on a protocol that only makes sense for a very limited subset of implementers of that protocol. Complex conjugates belong to complex numbers, there's no real reason why this should be defined outside of that type.

Because this is public discussion I will add my opinions:

Thanks for the feedback! Since this will be proposed in Swift Evolution at a later date, we do appreciate it! I wanted to specifically reach out to @scanon as Steven will be working on the implementation of complex numbers.

Probably not, complexConjugate is an implementation detail, VectorNumeric should define dot(Self, Self) -> Scalar .

I do see what you mean about not including complexConjugate in VectorNumeric. To make sure, do you think complexConjugate would live in in the Complex number struct?

but VectorNumeric sounds too much like Numeric , which is sort of like a ring, whereas a vector space with an inner product categorically isn't

I agree, but currently I'm unsure about a name like DotProductSpace, since it's very restrictive (like you said, just a first thought example!), and we may add additional functionality (not 100% at this very moment though). However, I do see the name may not be the best/clearest given the mathematical context you gave.

Thanks for your other feedback as well!

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Mathematically, a lot of other concepts can be derived from inner products: length, orthogonality, angles, etc. (see @Dante-Broggi's extensions).* I do understand though that DotProductSpace doesn't convey this information for non-mathematicians, so maybe a better name can be found. In the case of real vectors, "euclidean space" is often used, but not really in the complex case.

(*) In order for these concepts to work as expected, the inner product needs to satisfy some laws (which are always satisfied by the standard euclidean component-wise dot product over real number component vectors).

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Certainly; Or possibly in a protocol that Complex inherits from.

Just wanted to ping you again @scanon , no worries if you are busy right now with WWDC next week! Totally understand.