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Re: [ontolog-forum] History of AI and Commercial Data Processing

To: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 06 Jul 2009 13:22:55 -0400
Message-id: <4A5232EF.8070203@xxxxxxxx>
John F. Sowa wrote:    (01)

> Although I have a high regard for LISP, I also recognize the
> importance of using design and development tools that are widely
> available in the computing mainstream.  That was the primary focus
> of the original note in this thread.  Before commenting on your
> comments, I'd like to summarize those issues:
>  1. Staying close to the mainstream (whatever its merits or demerits)
>     is essential for commercial success.  First IBM and later MSFT
>     proved that point abundantly, despite many demerits (some of
>     which are obvious and others less so).
>  2. The leaders in AI have always been academics, who made rational
>     design decisions from their perspective, but many of those
>     decisions violated point #1.  As a result, most of their major
>     contributions took a long time to be accepted by the mainstream.
>     Furthermore, the people who later commercialized them were
>     usually outside of AI.  As a result, the original developers
>     and the field of AI as a whole got little credit.
>  3. Syntax is indeed very important.  It has a major impact on
>     readability, writability, ease of learning, ease of use,
>     error detection and correction, and ultimately programmer
>     productivity.  For most users, the single most important
>     feature is familiarity:  the C syntax, for example, violates
>     a large number of good design principles, but its familiarity
>     caused it to become the dominant notation for professional
>     programmers.
> I think we can agree on those issues.  The others get into
> details whose impact is less obvious because it's hard to
> disentangle them from the impact of many other details.    (02)

We are in complete agreement.  And it seems we agree on most of the 
rest, somewhat colored by our own individual experiences.    (03)

Two minor observations:    (04)

> In the olden days, FORTRAN was often used in
> the same way as C is today:  a portable assembly language.    (05)

Well C was designed to be that.  FORTRAN, when used for bit 
manipulations, generally did not prove to be very portable.  But certain 
software projects chose Fortran over assembly language for 3 reasons:
  - the belief that it was portable enough that it could be easily 
refitted to another platform.
  - the belief that it would be easier to maintain, because the coding 
patterns of Fortran are fewer and clearer than those of assembly coders, 
and thus programmers were more familiar with them.
  - the requirement to use a higher-level language, based on much bitter 
experience with reliability and maintainability of assembly codes.    (06)

In short, it goes back to your observations about syntax and mainstream. 
  Syntax constrains.    (07)

> EB> the original LISP did not have even the basic mathematical
>  > function library... The early LISP users did not have those
>  > concerns, but the Fortran and COBOL users did.
> In the 1950s and '60s, IBM distributed their software as
> open source.  The original LISP users were running on IBM
> hardware, and they just called the FORTRAN library routines.    (08)

Not on the IBM 704/7090 series.  The original LISP did not generate 
anything like a Fortran-library compatible subroutine call.  On the 
GE635, there was a LISP function that generated Fortran compatible 
calls, but you also had to include a predefined LISP function library.    (09)

MIT Project MAC integrated a (high-quality) mathematical function 
library into its LISP programming system (on the IBM 7090 and others), 
long about 1970.    (010)

> EB> ... The solution, you may recall, was 'cfacil"' -- a LISP
>  > library function that called a C-language subroutine.
> I did not use that solution, since I was at IBM, where the
> IBM LISP (also called LISP 1.6 + 0.2i -- the latter for the
> small imaginary component) was well integrated with all the
> other software available on IBM's VM/370 system.     (011)

Yes, but that was 10 years after McCarthy's tools.
But you are quite right, 'cfacil' was the Franz LISP equivalent of the 
GE Fcall for the Unix environments of the late 1970s, which was more or 
less parallel to the VM/370 time period.    (012)

And OBTW, not all the academics were entirely out of the mainstream. 
The IBM Fortran IV compiler for the 7090s came from Illinois Institute 
of Technology, and VM/370 itself was the successor to CP/CMS - the 
"Cambridge Monitor System" -- a 360 operating systems built by the 
rather famous British university.    (013)

-Ed    (014)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (015)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (016)

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