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List Programming
Volume Number:1
Issue Number:6

MACINTOSH List Programming

By Andy Cohen

Welcome to The Lisp Listener Window! This is the first of what we hope will become a regular column on programming Lisp on the Apple Macintosh. Lisp stands for List Programming and it is used for a very special type of computer programming in a field typically refered to as Artificial Intelligence or AI. Over the past five years AI has become a very popular and controversial topic. It has roots in Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology. The Psychologists found ways of describing human mental processes and the computer scientists have programmed these processes into computers, thereby getting the computer to perform human-like processing tasks.

Computers however, are definitely not one to one analogies to people. Computers process data. Human processes, on the other hand, deal with concepts. Lisp was designed specifically to handle the coding of these concepts by providing an object oriented, programm- ing environment. This development has provided us with programs that generate information by mimicking the same form of inductive reasoning as a person. In the case of specialized knowledge domains, these programs have been called Expert Systems. I will eventually try to emphasize on Lisp examples which will.

Take advantage of what makes Lisp different from the other languages covered in this publication. That is, it’s ability to manipulate objects, rather than just data, in a fashion similar to the way people do.

Is Lisp on the Mac Serious?

A friend asked me a little while ago if we will be able to program serious AI applications using Lisp? My first reaction was that we can’t. The smallest development system for an AI application has quite a bit more random access memory (from two to five Mbytes) and usually has a hard disk with more then 30 megabytes of space on which to read or write. The best we can hope for in the Macintosh environment (at the time this article was written!) is one megabyte of RAM and ten megabytes on a hard disk using the Mac XL. However, I also noted that sometimes the application is only developed using Lisp and then when finalized, the code is translated into a lower level language, such as Fortran. This recoding is done for speed and compactness.

My secondary feelings were yes, we probably can develop an AI application on the Mac to some extent, but the program will have to be translated into Pascal, C or even 68K Assembly. As it turns out, the version of Lisp coming from Expertelligence will allow us to do quite a bit with just 512K and two floppies. I’ll describe this package in detail later. Will we be able to use the Mac as an AI development machine? I am still sceptical, however I have a feeling that time will show us that it just might be possible. If you are asking, why would somebody program Lisp on the Mac at this time? I can only say one should use Lisp on the Mac for educational purposes. Heck, educational purposes are more than enough considering that a complete Lisp development system can cost over $75,000.00! Also consider that just a couple of years ago having Lisp on a micro-computer was almost as fictional as verbally asking your Mac to open the pod bay doors.

Different Lisps

Lisp comes in many different versions just like any other computer language. There is Zetalisp, Interlisp, Maclisp (not Macintosh) and some I’m sure I’ve never heard of. The versions of Lisp that are or will be available on the Macintosh are very close to Common Lisp. An excellent text for Common Lisp is “Lisp” 2nd ed. by Winston and Horn. All that I discuss in this article regarding Common Lisp follows what is in that text.

At the time this article was written only one version of Lisp was available. It is called XLisp and was developed by David Betz. It was programmed in C and was considered by Betz as an experimental language. There are two versions of XLisp that I have seen on the Mac; version 1.2 and version 1.4. Both versions of XLisp are interpreted. Only version 1.4 however, can handle object oriented programming. Unfortunately, XLisp 1.4 takes up most of the available memory on a 128K Mac. Either version of XLisp however, will work fine on a 128K Mac for demonstrating some of the arithmetic functions in Common Lisp syntax. The biggest advantage of XLisp is that it is Public Domain software. In other words, it is free. Look for it on Compuserve’s MAUG or to your local users’ group. Chances are it is available in one or more versions.

Lisp and Arithmetic

Enough small talk ( oops, sorry about that!) , now lets take a first look at Lisp. The most fundamental object in Lisp is an Atom. The atom is used in groups to produce Lists. Atoms and lists make up what are called expressions.

Okay, lets get a little more detail. A procedure specifies how something is performed. For example “+” or plus sign is a procedure. The “+” by itself is called a primitive. Numbers or symbols are refered to as arguments. Therefore the numbers 2.56 and 8.34 are arguments. These elements or atoms can be placed into a List:

 (+ 2.56 8.54)

The procedure “+” will then operate on the arguments 2.56 and 8.54 to produce 11.1. A bunch of procedures which work together are a program. More examples of lists are the following:

 (+ 2 2)
 (* 103 346)
 (/ 35 46)

If you have XLisp try typing these in yourself. The answers are produced when the carriage return is made, then displayed beneath the list. I used bold lettering to indicate the output.

 (+ 2 2)

See. Isn’t that easy? Lets make things more interesting. Procedures can also be more complex, e.g. MIN and MAX (If you are trying this with XLisp be sure to use the lower case):

 (MIN 53 37 95 23)
 (MAX 74 37 49 20)

MIN will print the smallest argument in the list. MAX will print the largest.

One can also use primitives typically used with multiple arguments with singular arguments.

 (- 7)
 (- -3)

In the first case the negative or subtract symbol turns the argument into a negative equivalent. In the second the “-” turns the negative argument into a positive just as -1*-3=3.

Lists can contain other lists.

 (- (* 4 9) (+ 8 32))

The equivalent of the above is as follows:

 (- 36 40)

As we can see the list is organized and performed in a typical hierarchical manner. A list, therefore, is made up of a left parenthesis, followed by any number of atoms or lists and concluded with a right parenthesis.

Dissecting Lists

Enough of numbers, lets start to use symbols as arguments.

 (A B C)


 (Alpha Beta Cookies)

Now lets use more sophisticated procedures. CAR and CDR are used to pull arguments out of lists. I’m told CAR stands for “Contents of Address Register” and CDR stands for “Contents of Data Register”. I’m sure there is some meaning in these titles with regard to the result, but that’s not important right now. What is important is what these procedures do.

(CAR ‘(Alpha Beta Cookies))

CAR returns the first argument in the list. Note that we are using a list in a list.

(CDR ‘(Alpha Beta Cookies))
 (Beta Cookies)

CDR returns the list minus the first argument. What if I am looking for the second argument in a list of three? In this case the CAR and CDR procedures can be nested.

(CAR (CDR ‘(Alpha Beta Cookies)))

In the above example CDR produces the list,

 (Beta Cookies)

then CAR produces Beta. I hope you’ve noticed the single quote after the CDR above as well as in the other samples. This is how Lisp knows that the CDR in the above sample is a procedure and not just another argument. Without the single quote the following would be the result:

(CAR (CDR (Alpha Beta Cookies)))

CDR in this case was not considered by Lisp as a procedure. The CAR procedure looked to the first argument, in this case the CDR, and displayed it. After playing a bit with these two procedures and a bunch of arguments one can see ways of making sets of procedures which will perform specific kinds of searches.

I’ve tried to give a very brief introduction to Common Lisp simply for the purpose of giving some impression of what Lisp looks like. Most of the above can be done using XLisp. Since Xlisp is an experimental program and Experlisp from Expertelligence will be a relatively serious Lisp development package, this column will probably deal exclusively with Experlisp. Next month The Lisp Listener Window will give a detailed description of Experlisp as well as discuss composing nested CARs and CDRs, symbolic assignment and a whole bunch of related procedures. In future installments I would like to review detailed examples as well as compare the performance of our little Mac to those of the Lisp machines from Xerox and Symbolics.


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