Lisp Has Some Serious Drawbacks

By Graff, John | THE JOURNAL RECORD, October 9, 1985 | Go to article overview

Lisp Has Some Serious Drawbacks


Graff, John, THE JOURNAL RECORD


What is artificial intelligence? What does it mean and how does it affect you.

One consumer newspaper describes artificial intelligence as "quickly emerging as a main stream product." Other media are effusive about the impending release of numerous products that purportedly use some forms of artificial intelligence. This has lead to speculation that artificial intelligence will become the new buzz word in the computer industry.

A major part of the development work with artificial intelligence centers around a single language, LISP (an acronym for listing processing). While its implementation on microcomputers is new, LISPhas been around since the late 1950s. Those who have used LISP jokingly refer to it as lots of insidiously stupid parenthesis - to which I can surely attest.

Without a decent compiler, able to point out the deficiencies of parentheses, using LISP becomes as appealing as a trip to the dentist.

LISP has until recently had the reputation as an interesting but impractical language. However, one of the things I find most interesting about LISP is its ability to modify its own code as the program is run.

There are some serious drawbacks to using LISP on a microcomputer. Most programs will run at a snails pace, especially if they are run on an interpreted version of LISP.

My experience with LISP has led me to two conclusions:

- Powerful personal computers such as the MacIntosh or Amiga are necessary to run it;

- One must be careful in selecting the interpreter.

Primarily because of cost considerations, I selected Byso LISP on which to experiment. The version I was using led me immediately to disaster, in part because it was a bare bones implementation of LISP, and in part because if you wrote the programs directly in the interpreter they couldn't be saved.

If you used an external text editor and loaded the programs into the interpreter, the only error message you would get was the program crashing.

The bottom line is that if you had one bug in a 300-line program, you would have no idea where the bug was or what it was. The way to get around this is to break the program up into smaller parts and load each one in separately, but that is inconvenient and unacceptably annoying. Although I have been advised that there is a later version of Byso LISP out, my experience with Byso LISP was so bad I would not recommend it for anyone, especially those new to LISP.

I have heard some good things about another artificial intelligence language primarily aimed at data bases called Prolog. It is a more recently developed language about which I know little other than it is being used in the Japanese 5th generation project.

LISP is one of those languages waiting for a more powerful machine. It really needs to be run on a VAX or an equivalent in processing power to provide performance levels one might expect from Basicon an IBM PC. Take heart - those machines and artificial intelligence are on the way.

- The Amiga will be the first computer to have LISP available upon its introduction. In what is expected to be a full implementation of Cambridge LISP, Metacomco of Monterey, Calif., will release Cambridge LISP 68000 to be distributed by Commodore for the Amiga. It will incorporate an interpreter, compiler and structure editor, as well as partial access to the Amiga's graphics.

For many, a near $1,000 price will offer some competitive advantages over a workstation priced at ten times the amount, especially for those who require powerful graphics capabilities. …

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