Article on New Scientist
April 5, 2001 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Article on New Scientist about "software that turns everyday language into computer code".
posted by paladin (19 comments total)
Back when higher level languages began to overtake assembly programming, there was a very similar "Now anyone can be a programmer" kind of thought about it. While every layer of abstraction between us and the machine code is certainly helpful in simplifying the process of writing and reusing code, it's not quite that revolutionary. The bulk of the complexity in software comes from the actual design process, not the coding.
posted by shinji_ikari at 6:39 PM on April 5, 2001

Some people just don't have the right mindset for programming. You have to enjoy breaking down problems into very small steps, even smaller than you'd have to do for the dumbest person, and you have to enjoy making a lot of difficult-to-find mistakes. If a high-level system had the ability to allow ordinary people, without these personality quirks, to succesfully write computer programs, the system would essentially have passed the Turing Test.
posted by kindall at 7:10 PM on April 5, 2001

All I have to say is that after years of programming, this article seeems dubious at best, and blatant wishful thinking about new tech at worst.
posted by tj at 7:33 PM on April 5, 2001

The company is Synapse Solutions, located in Cambridge, England. And it sounds like classic vaporware to me, too.
posted by waxpancake at 7:47 PM on April 5, 2001

Anybody have anything positive to add? I think it sounds pretty sweet. I look forward to using it or something similar in 20 years or so.
posted by howa2396 at 8:35 PM on April 5, 2001

Hmm, so one item in the DeCSS Gallery bites the legal dust, it would seem...
posted by letourneau at 9:51 PM on April 5, 2001

While I'm suspect of any technology that claims to have completely solved the natural-language processing problem, I must admit that it is no longer completely science fiction. The current crop of GHz-plus processors are more than capable of transcribing human speech, and might actually be able to tokenize a limited vocabulary into logical instructions.

This may not enable everyone to become a programmer, but I sure look forward to the day when I can say, "and do it ten times" instead of typing "for(i=0,i<10,i++)"
posted by johnnyace at 10:31 PM on April 5, 2001

This was already done. The language was called COBOL.
posted by milnak at 10:53 PM on April 5, 2001

There was also an object-oriented version of COBOL, named ADD 1 TO COBOL.
posted by kindall at 1:40 AM on April 6, 2001

Hey, remember Applescript ??

That was a language that even a humanities major could figure out. Sort of. (referring to myself).
posted by mecran01 at 7:29 AM on April 6, 2001

LOL, kindall.

johnnyace, you're nuts! A for statement is infinitely better. It allows you so much more flexibility!
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:48 AM on April 6, 2001

Through the years, I've seen lots of companies advertise that their latest product would eliminate the need for programming and (perhaps more to the point for the target audience) programmers. I don't think most of these companies exist anymore.
posted by harmful at 8:16 AM on April 6, 2001

I giggle when I think about programmers creating the software that will supposedly destroy their own jobs.

5 years ago, anyone who could create a web page was considered a programmer, but look now at all the people who have simple, respectable web pages that would run screaming at the thought of being considered a programmer?

And yet, C++ is still the most used programming language for complex applications. JavaScript, while not an especially difficult language, baffles the many people who cut and paste scripts, but they're still able to access the functionality because of programmers.

We're not going anywhere. There will always be people who make the complex foundation of products and services easily accessible to the people who don't want to.

Also, before you think I'm getting elitist about programming, I still take my car to a mechanic.
posted by cCranium at 8:36 AM on April 6, 2001

"Computers that learn the way you work, rather than you having to learn the way they work."

Hmm, catchy. In a difficult to say kind of way.
posted by Markb at 9:01 AM on April 6, 2001

I not only remember AppleScript, I wrote a script yesterday. AppleScript is pretty easy to read, but like most programming languages, it's a lot harder to write than it is to read. Even COBOL shares this trait. In fact, I'd say that languages that are easy to read tend to be marginally harder to learn to write than languages that are slightly more cryptic.

(Yes, I learned COBOL in college.)
posted by kindall at 9:05 AM on April 6, 2001

Is it that the languages are difficult to write, or that defining a complex process in unambiguous terms is difficult in any language?
posted by harmful at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2001

Harmful, the latter, which is a good point. But then, that's what all languages do, too. I mean, "happy" is a pretty complex emotional state. Define "happy" and you'll end up using a whole lot of words to make something that most people understand clear.

I think the effort to remove that layer of minutia is a good one. HTML, to use my former example, is as popular as it is because it leaves the complexity to people who are entertained by the complexity.

I get mildly irritated by efforts to bring programming to the "everyman" and things like C++ for Dummies really piss me off, but creating something so that other people can create without having to know the minutia? That's an excellent goal.
posted by cCranium at 12:13 PM on April 6, 2001

sonofsam, I agree that given the current state of human/computer interface (i.e. mouse and keyboard for most of us), converting our instructions into a language the computer can readily understand is the only viable solution at the moment.

However, imagine having to literally speak that language, syntax and all. I suspect many of us would quickly grow tired of saying "for open parenthesis eye equal zero comma eye less than ten comma" and so on.

Don't get me wrong; when it comes to banging out contemporary code, they can have my keyboard once they pry it from my cold, dead fingers, but I also dream of the day when computers are capable of parsing spoken instructions in my language of choice, not theirs.
posted by johnnyace at 10:57 PM on April 6, 2001

I'd kill for something that was as intuitive to the non-programmer as Hypercard, but could perform tcp/ip functions...
posted by owillis at 11:07 PM on April 6, 2001

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