The performance limitations of single-user expert systems within a mainframe environment, coupled with the failure of products to live up to – over-hyped – expectations, are now being seen as substantive obstacles to the widespread acceptance and adoption of knowledge-based techniques by the commercial data-processing world. Or so says Oxford-based Telecomputing Plc, which realised at the end of its first half in March that it had a serious problem in getting its ideas across to users, and that the problem was damaging its prospects of sales of its Top-One product (CI No 949). In a bid to confront these particular issues, and the threat to its business, head-on, the company last week entered into a licensing agreement with Logic Programming Associates or LPA Ltd of Wandsworth. Essentially, LPA’s expert system toolkit Flex, which runs on an MS-DOS micro or the Apple Mac, will be made available as part of the latest release of Telecomputing’s Top-One teleprocessing system for IBM mainframes, which is designed to enable users to develop expert system applications that will mesh with existing applications and run alongside them at the same speed; it also applies artificial intelligence techniques to improve performance. The single-user version of the new release will cost UKP15,000, while multi-user versions will start at UKP45,000. Prolog As both products support Prolog, developers will be able to prototype knowledge-based applications and build knowledge bases on microcomputers either off- or on-line to the mainframe, and, once fine-tuned, load them up to the mainframe. In addition, users will be able to develop and demonstrate applications without overburdening the mainframe, and without being required to learn a new programming language. Some 15% of data processors accept visible ideas, argued Telecomputing chief Bernard Panton, compared with the mere 2% who respond positively to suggestions presented at a conceptual level. Versions of Top-One are available for ICL and IBM mainframe environments, and versions for Unix, VAX/VMS and 80386-based MS-DOS micros are in development for release next year. From LPA’s point of view, the deal with Telecomputing represents its first significant move into the main-frame market, and provides a much needed source of revenue; it also allows the 10-strong but avowedly academic company to reap the benefits of being attached to a large and established marketing arm. At a more theoretical level, however, neither company seemed to have any solutions to the damagingly esoteric image of artificial intelligence; both merely insisted that manufacturers and users had now entered a more realistic phase, with a higher level of awareness that companies must get into this kind of technology, prevalent amongst the crucial decision-making classes. This may come as some comfort to the Department of Trade & Industry, which was simultaneously announcing details of an expert systems consciousness-raising campaign for top British management.
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