TLO 4 Natural Language Programming

By Gaynard, Philip | Management Services, May 1995 | Go to article overview

TLO 4 Natural Language Programming


Gaynard, Philip, Management Services


The introduction of personal computers into the world of business has surely opened new avenues of freedom to the problem solvers in all areas of operations. In particular, it has released much needed energy into the realms of industrial engineering and organisation and methods departments.

Previously, anyone without specialist training in computer programming had to rely on the scraps of knowledge that some programmes would deign to explain to mere mortals who would be responsible for the use of the program. Nowadays, it is feasible that the problem solver will also be the systems analyst working closely with the programme in addition to being the person responsible for implementation and handover of the application to the end-user. The fulfilment of the BASIC language and the advent of the personal computer which is fully compatible with the IBM models ensured that a vast market place was created. It is a situation where the solutions in any location could be deployed universally and supported by the software developments without excessive demands on time and translation costs. This concept has found its greatest expression in the evolution of database structures which are able to manipulate file records according to the rules specified by the promoter of the program. The different databases available on the market lay claim to be capable of doing many things at any particular time; including relational data configurations, structured query language etc.

The program we will describe is a program generator employing Natural Language Programming techniques to convert a series of logic steps into BASIC code. A Microsoft compiler produces the final executable program so that the end-user can run that program independently of the original program generator, and even without any knowledge of its existence. TLO 4 is the Natural Language Program which encourages the programmer to set out the logic steps of the application in everyday, simple English terms which are familiar to the developer by using any favourite word processor or notebook program. Sidekick, or Sidekick Plus, would be the recommended choice of recording the notes (because of their memory resident capability) but any personal word processor can be used.

The problem solver first defines the application as a flowchart, not the diagrammatic version with squares, circles and rectangles, but one which is expressed as a plain, English description for each of the main steps in the sequence of the program ideas. He can amend the document at any time to reflect changes to the data descriptions, types, sizes or even the number of fields in a file (with no detrimental effect on existing data in the file).

Equally, he can refine the operation of the end-program by an adjustment to the logic of the procedure, alterations to the screen design, or whatever else may take his fancy. He accomplishes all this by altering a phrase or a sentence to reflect the new idea -- and the document is ready for conversion to the binary code recognised by the computer.

TLO 4 then scans this document and writes the code for the runtime version of the program; the process of writing is very quick and takes longer to describe than to accomplish. It allows for many modifications or experiments per hour so that the precise screen design and the exact requirements can be delivered to the user in the shortest time possible. The program can present full screen display facilities including windows that pop up or pull down; changes of colour are accomplished by a simple command; data can be output to any type of report from single, mixed or relational file structures; most database functions are available just by naming them (eg Update File A is a logic phrase which codes the routines to Add, Amend or Delete records together with all the necessary checks, verifications and screen messages); all types of searching, including the query AND/OR/NOT format, are available without the need for preset keys or indexes and can be achieved on up to 99 mixed search criteria if it is desired. …

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