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[REBOL] Philosophical (was "UnRebolish") commentary Re:(3)

From: joel:neely:fedex at: 26-Sep-2000 16:39

[rsnell--webtrends--com] wrote:
> I found it interesting, however, that you omitted a quote >
(I felt I was seriously in danger of overstaying the reader's patience, and had forgotten to put on my asbestos knickers, as well... ;-)
> in the EWD498 document that reads: > > [Projects promoting programming in "natural language" are > intrinsically doomed to fail.] > > Since Rebol has been designed to have a "natural language" > slant (esp. dialects) - is it doomed to fail? >
Bear in mind that EWD was already a practicing computing scientist when COBOL came on the scene. One of the big sales pitch points in the early days of COBOL was "Now the managers will be able to read their programmers' code to see if it is correct -- after all, it's English." In later years, the AI crowd kept predicting that within 5-10 years, we'd be able to do without programmers -- just tell the computer what you want it to do in plain English! (However, over time it became apparent that natural language interfaces to computing systems were ALWAYS 5-10 years in the future, regardless of the current year...) In the early 70s, there was even one company which had a database system whose command language was "English (tm)". These days, the most-popular-programming-languages list includes C, C++, Java, Perl, and Python; not English, Spanish, nor German. Human communication thrives on expressiveness, humor, subtle connotation, and (sometimes even deliberately) ambiguity. Instructing computers still requires precision, clarity, and unambiguity. I have yet to see any evidence that the same mode of communication serves well both sets of criteria.
> (And no btw, I don't agree with that - look at the VID - > it is "natural" mainly in it's ease of getting the job done, > not in humanized language terms). >
I believe EWD was using the phrase "natural language" in the sense of "a language that humans already know, such as English, Spanish, or German". I believe that when a knowledgeable person with experience in a technical area (e.g., a member of this list) looks at a notation for accomplishing some sophisticated task, and describes it as "natural", that we're dealing with a different meaning entirely -- approachable, clear, learnable, relevant, certainly, but not a kind of communication that J. Random Couchpotatoe would be expected to walk in off the street and start speaking with no training. I recall an article from several years ago which cited a number of bad (some nearly catastrophic) business decisions due to bugs complex spreadsheets presumably built by folks who thought they didn't need programming skills. So, having come the long way around, no. I don't believe that REBOL is "doomed to failure", not because I don't agree with EWD, but because I really don't believe that REBOL is doing what he criticized. -jn-