Book ReviewsSoftware Review

PC Software for Artificial Intelligence Applications

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Science  06 May 1988:
Vol. 240, Issue 4853, pp. 824-830
DOI: 10.1126/science.240.4853.824

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Our review has emphasized that AI tools are programming languages inspired by some problem-solving paradigm. We want to underscore their status as programming languages; even if an AI tool seems to fit a problem perfectly, its proficient use still requires the training and practice associated with any programming language. The programming manuals for PC-Plus, Smalltalk/ V, and Nexpert Object are all tutorial in nature, and the corresponding software packages come with sample applications. We find the manuals to be uniformly good introductions that try to anticipate the problems of a user who is new to the technology. All three vendors offer free technical support by telephone to licensed users.

AI tools are sometimes oversold as a way to make programming easy or to avoid it altogether. The truth is that AI tools demand programming—but programming that allows you to concentrate on the essentials of the problem. If we had to implement a diagnostic system, we would look first to a product such as PC-Plus rather than BASIC or C, because PC-Plus is designed specifically for such a problem, whereas these conventional languages are not. If we had to implement a system that required graphical interfaces and could benefit from inheritance, we would look first to an object-oriented system such as Smalltalk/V that provides built-in mechanisms for both. If we had to implement an expert system that called for some mix of AI and conventional techniques, we would look first to a product such as Nexpert Object that integrates various problem-solving technologies. Finally, we might use FORTRAN if we were concerned primarily with programming a well-defined numerical algorithm. AI tools are a valuable complement to traditional languages.