John McCarthy

Stanford University

Elephant 2000: A Programming Language for the year 2015 Based on Speech Acts
25 minutes, 11.9mb, recorded 2008-03-05
John McCarthy

Computer programs require a lot of extra code because they don't have a sense of the world.  Human language on the other hand conveys most of its meaning through its context and semantics.  The goal of the Elephant 2000 programming language is to use context and speech acts to convey meaning without a lot of code.  In this talk at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, John McCarthy, creator of Elephant, describes the language and how it will move work from computer programmers to compilers.

One characteristic of the language is that "Communication inputs and outputs are in an I-O language whose sentences are meaningful speech acts identified in the language as questions, answers, offers, acceptances, declinations, requests, permissions and promises."  The language also keeps track of what has happened previously, like in the saying that "an elephant never forgets."  This means that the question "Does this person have an airline reservation?" can be answered based on if the person a) made a reservation and b) has not cancelled it.

Dr. McCarthy had to cut his talk short but explains some of the background and philosophical arguments for Elephant.

John McCarthy has been Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University since 1962. His research is mainly in artificial intelligence. Long ago he originated the Lisp programming language and the initial research on general purpose time-sharing computer systems. As a public service, he has created a Web page on the sustainability of material progress. Material progress is indeed sustainable.


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