eWeek: 'Exotic' Programming Tools Go Mainstream

The January release of Franz's Allegro Common LISP 8.0 puts developers on notice that "exotic" programming tools, long relegated to research environments, are becoming more viable options for mainstream applications. LISP, PROLOG, genetic programming and neural nets are among the technologies increasingly ready for Web-facing roles.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions about this article...

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Common Lisp _is_ mainstream! :P

I wonder if Scheme, Haskell, OCaml, Erlang, Oz and some others are that 'exotic' to not even get a mention while neural nets do!

Neural Nets

My opinion is that the reputation of Lisp has been tarnished by such a close association with neural nets and genetic algorithms. I don't know of any reasonable application of these algorithms to web technologies, contrary to the empty assertions of the article.

Enterprise applications -> web applications?

Well, I think the article was saying that neural nets and genetic algorithms were being applied to enterprise applications, not (merely) web applications. Which brings up another point: what the heck is an enterprise application exactly? (I really have no idea, other than it's an overused buzzword that makes me think of boring database applications written in Java). If that’s basically what they are (business applications) then it's possible that these approaches are used for data mining (finding patterns in data, etc).

I don't know about enterprise applications, but

Both neural networks and genetic algorithms (and the two together) have been used in real-world (finance, medical, chemical, and, yes, data mining) applications. I personally don't know of any web applications, but neural networks would be good for categorizing web pages (I started doing this myself once as a way to find pages on web stores which displayed products, but didn't have the time to finish.)

By the way, the preferred languages for neural network applications probably have been C and C++, not LISP.

Reminds me of a quote...

This reminds me of a quote from the TV show "The Simpsons":

"Oh, look at that adorable spice rack! Eight spices? Some must be doubles. Or-e-gano? What the hell (is that)?" - Marge Simpson

This Can Only Be Good For Lisp

I'm proud of Allegro for the work they've done in Allegro 8.0 (can this article count as a review of the product? It kind of jets off there in the middle of the article..)

Personally, I can't hope to get research money to pay for an Allegro 8.0 upgrade, and it would appear that I'm missing out on the speed. I particularly like the fact that it compiles to native 64-bit AMD and 64-bit PowerPC code for my Mac G5 (although they are already replaced by Intel). I am reminded of the same work Cincom is doing with Smalltalk from PARC, extending it in to the world of webservices and XML processing and making it a great platform for enterprise development despite the dominance of Microsoft, IBM & Sun. Even if you dispute their usefulness, you have to admire these companies for keeping the languages current.

However, I must say that if Lisp is to gain any momentum on the enterprise side it needs the older developers who are hostile to new learners on usenet and other boards to give up their protectionism and clique mindset, enterprise environments to be more flexible in approaching problems in their business (everything can't be solved in Java? Well, what about C# then?), and.. as much as it pains me to say it, we need O'Reilly to start talking about it a little. I mean, in a world where open-source VOIP providers have their own animal fronted O'Reilly book, I think they can stand to have a Lisp book or two out there.

I wonder what the Lisp animal would be? We might finally have Lisp now moved in to a position to find out.

If Lisp is gaining momentum, it is because of Paul Graham, young CS students who are balking at being locked in to the top-heavy 90's world of Algol languages (the frameworks and IDEs alone are getting in to the GIGs now), and the proliferation of new Lisp communities on the web with new blood behind them.

You only need to see how inspiring CS students are treated on lisp usenet groups when they have their first question to understand why this language has been so sour for so long.

There's a lot of truth in

There's a lot of truth in that. The LISP community has made the LISP language appear much more exotic and complex than it really is by surrounding it with such mystique. I used to use Tcl a lot, and do all sorts of down-and-dirty things to extend the language. When I decided to learn Common LISP and steeled myself for a learning experience akin to getting to grips with monads, I found that programming in Common LISP was little different to programming in Tcl or any high level, dynamic language.

One easy way to change the image of LISP would be to stop describing Common LISP as a big language. There is no clean dividing line between language and library in LISP, so it is more accurate to describe Common LISP as a small language with a large standard library. However, compared to Java or .NET, the standard library of Common LISP is very small.

O'Reilly books

I think they can stand to have a Lisp book or two out there

Well, they started publishing books on other historic languages recently. <gd&r>

C in a coconut shell

at 618 Pages, that's some nutshell.

K&R (2nd edition) - 272 pages.

I know which one I'd rather have.

O'Reilly Animals

Since Lisp has been around since the beginning of time, the best cover would probably be an Ent ("the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth" - In the middle of reading LOTR to my daughter).

Current O'Reilly Animals.


Or a λamb

The Lisp animal It's been

A crocodile.

It's been around practically forever, survived the extinction of the dinosaurs, and despite its long evolution, still pretty much looks like it always did. The design may look weird, but it works.

Article Title is Misleading

Fallacy: "Web-facing" -> "Mainstream".

Look at the examples: a NASA guy working on speech recognition, a physicist working on genetic programming, and a healthcare consultant working on neural nets.

It doesn't matter if these guys make their results available on a webpage. None of this stuff is mainstream. Aside from the XML parsing & regex facilities, there's nothing in the article that supports the title.

...hot Web applications such as speech recognition...

When did this happen?

Also, you lose points in my book if you spell out AMD.


What does any of this have to do with AI?

"The combination of AI capability with the ability to create entirely new programming languages make LISP uniquely situated for the near future of computation."

In an article about how Lisp deserves to be free of its rather dubious reputation, this seems like a strange quote to end with. I wonder if Lisp will ever be free of "AI"...

(By the way, you linked straight to the second page of the article. Here's the beginning.)


I agree. In fact, I think the claim that Lisp is "for" AI is one of the more absurd claims (or "programming language myths"), notwithstanding the history of the language.

Short anecdote

A few years ago, I programmed an Eliza chatterbot for my students, in Prolog. Once I had finished doing it, I realized that roughly two thirds of the code was basically reimplementing a Lisp interpreter. Morality ? Whenever people ask me, I'll keep answering that Lisp is good for AI :)

the article reads like a

the article reads like a marketing brochure for ACL 8.0 and seems rather thin on any facts. Imo.