Researchers Develop Context-Specific Software Language

A new software language promises to allow computers to consider the consequences of their commands.

Analysts said this artificial intelligence technology looks promising for both manufacturers and business management processes. ISO 18629 becomes part of what Business Communication Company (BCC) predicts will be at least a US$21 billion market by 2007.

While computers today merely respond to user commands without ever “thinking” about the effects, National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers, along with colleagues in France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, have developed a process specification language that enables computers to reason much more precisely and therefore better reflect subtleties intended by commands of human operators.

Known as ISO 18629, the developers believe the language will make computers much more useful in manufacturing. ISO 18629 uses artificial intelligence (AI) and language analysis to represent computer commands in the context of a manufacturing plan.

Does Your Computer Speak ‘Context-Specific’?

Researchers have incorporated approximately 300 concepts, such as “duration” and “sequence,” into its software structure. Computers using software with this expanded, though still primitive, AI capacity can act on a word’s “meaning,” interpreting a command almost like a person.

For instance, a person who hears the commands “paint it before shipping it” and “turn on the coolant before milling” understands that the word “before” has slightly different meanings in these two different contexts.

In the first command, it is understood that painting and drying must be completed prior to the next action, shipping. In the second command, however, the first action, turning on the coolant, continues after the milling starts. ISO 18629 supports computer systems with this type of rudimentary understanding of context-specific language.

Awaiting Applications

The developers said ISO 18629 language is especially suited for the exchange of process planning, validation, production scheduling and control information for guiding manufacturing processes.

Richard Ptak, an analyst with IT research firm Ptak, Noel & Associates, told TechNewsWorld that ISO 18629 could be considered a significant advance in programming. But Ptak said he is still somewhat skeptical, seeing as there have been great promises but little follow-through in the realm of artificial intelligence.

“This sounds like an interesting step forward with a lot of potential — depending on how it’s implemented and how hard it is to apply,” Ptak said. “If it is an add-on process that can be easily integrated into existing programs that control the manufacturing process, that will be sweet. If it’s a whole new language that requires rewriting of the application programs, it’s going to take much longer to get put into practical use.”

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which already has approved six sections of the fledgling standard, is currently reviewing the last of its three sections. Once the expected ISO approval is given, software vendors will begin building a variety of manufacturing systems that conform to ISO 18629.

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