Fifth generation computer

Fifth generation computer

:"For the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, see Cinema of China-The rise of the Fifth Generation".The Fifth Generation Computer Systems project (FGCS) was an initiative by Japan's
Ministry of International Trade and Industry, begun in 1982, to create a "fifth generation computer" (see history of computing hardware) which was supposed to perform much calculation using massive parallel processing. It was to be the end result of a massive government/industry research project in Japan during the 1980s. It aimed to create an "epoch-making computer" with supercomputer-like performance and usable artificial intelligence capabilities.

The term "fifth generation" was intended to convey the system as being a leap beyond existing machines. Computers using vacuum tubes were called the first generation; transistors and diodes, the second; integrated circuits, the third; and those using microprocessors, the fourth. Whereas previous computer generations had focused on increasing the number of logic elements in a single CPU, the fifth generation, it was widely believed at the time, would instead turn to massive numbers of CPUs for added performance.

Opinions about its outcome are divided: Either it was a failure, or it was ahead of its time.


Background and design philosophy

Throughout these multiple generations since the 1980s, Japan had largely been a follower in terms of computing advancement, building computers following US and British leads. The Ministry for International Trade and Industry (MITI) decided to attempt to break out of this follow-the-leader pattern, and in the mid-1970s started looking, on a small scale, into the future of computing. They asked the Japan Information Processing Development Center (JIPDEC) to indicate a number of future directions, and in 1979 offered a three-year contract to carry out more in-depth studies along with industry and academia. It was during this period that the term "fifth-generation computer" started to be used.

The primary fields for investigation from this initial project were:

* Inference computer technologies for knowledge processing
* Computer technologies to process large-scale data bases and knowledge bases
* High performance workstations
* Distributed functional computer technologies
* Super-computers for scientific calculation

The project imagined a parallel processing computer running on top of massive databases (as opposed to a traditional filesystem) using a logic programming language to define and access the data. They envisioned building a prototype machine with performance between 100M and 1G LIPS, where a LIPS is a "Logical Inference Per Second." At the time typical workstation machines were capable of about 100k LIPS. They proposed to build this machine over a ten year period, 3 years for initial R&D, 4 years for building various subsystems, and a final 3 years to complete a working prototype system. In 1982 the government decided to go ahead with the project, and established the Institute for New Generation Computer Technology (ICOT) through joint investment with various Japanese computer companies.


So ingrained was the belief that parallel computing was the future of all performance gains that the Fifth-Generation project generated a great deal of apprehension in the computer field. After having seen the Japanese take over the consumer electronics field during the 1970s and apparently doing the same in the automotive world during the 1980s, the Japanese in the 1980s had a reputation for invincibility. Soon parallel projects were set up in the US as the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), in England as Alvey, and in Europe as the European Strategic Program of Research in Information Technology (ESPRIT, as well as ECRC (European Computer Research Centre) in Munich, a collaboration between ICL in Britain, Bull in France, and Siemens in Germany.

Five running Parallel Inference Machines (PIM) were eventually produced: PIM/m, PIM/p, PIM/i, PIM/k, PIM/c. The project also produced applications to run on these systems, such as the parallel database management system "Kappa", the legal reasoning system "HELIC-II", and the automated theorem prover "MGTP", as well as applications to Bioinformatics.


The FGCS Project did not meet with commercial success for reasons similar to the Lisp machine companies and Thinking Machines. The highly parallel computer architecture was eventually surpassed in speed by less specialized hardware (for example, Sun workstations and Intel x86 machines). The project did produce a new generation of promising Japanese researchers. But after the FGCS Project, MITI stopped funding large-scale computer research projects, and the research momentum developed by the FGCS Project dissipated. It should be noted, however, that MITI/ICOT embarked on a Sixth Generation Project in the 1990s.

A primary problem was the choice of concurrent logic programming as the bridge between the parallel computer architecture and the use of logic as a knowledge representation and problem solving language for AI applications. This never happened cleanly; a number of languages were developed, all with their own limitations. In particular, the committed choice feature of concurrent constraint logic programming interfered with the logical semantics of the languages.

Another problem was that existing CPU performance quickly pushed through the "obvious" barriers that experts perceived in the 1980s, and the value of parallel computing quickly dropped to the point where it was for some time used only in niche situations. Although a number of workstations of increasing capacity were designed and built over the project's lifespan, they generally found themselves soon outperformed by "off the shelf" units available commercially.

The project also suffered from being on the wrong side of the technology curve. During its lifespan, Apple Computer introduced the GUI to the masses; the internet enabled locally stored databases to become distributed; and even simple research projects provided better real-world results in data mining.Fact|date=September 2008 Moreover the project found that the promises of logic programming were largely negated by the use of committed choice.

At the end of the ten year period the project had spent through over 50 billion yen (about $400 million at 1992 exchange rates) and was terminated without having met its goals. The workstations had no appeal in a market where general purpose systems could now take over their job and even outrun them. This is parallell to the Lisp machine market, where rule-based systems such as CLIPS could run on general-purpose computers, making expensive Lisp machines unnessecary. James Hendler, IEEE Intelligent Systems (March/April 2008 (Vol. 23, No. 2) pp. 2-4]

In spite of the possibility of considering the project a failure, many of the approaches envisioned in the Fifth-Generation project, such as logic programming distributed over massive knowledge-bases, are now being re-interpreted in current technologies. The Web Ontology Language (OWL) employs several layers of logic-based knowledge representation systems, while many flavors of parallel computing proliferate, including multi-core architectures at the low-end and massively parallel processing at the high end. It can be argued that the Fifth-Generation project was aimed at solving a problem that was ahead of its time.


* 1982: the FGCS project begins and receives $450,000,000 worth of industry funding and an equal amount of government funding.
* 1985: the first FGCS hardware known as the "Personal Sequential Inference Machine" (PSI) and the first version of the "Sequentual Inference Machine Programming Operating System" (SIMPOS) operating system is released. SIMPOS is programmed in "Kernel Language 0" (KL0), a concurrent Prolog-variant with object oriented extensions.
* 1987: a prototype of a truly parallel hardware called the "Parallel Inference Machine" (PIM) is built using several PSI:s connected in a network. The project receives funding for 5 more years. A new version of the kernel language "Kernel Language 1" (KL1) which look very similar to "Flat GDC" (Flat Guarded Definite Clauses) is created, influenced by developments in Prolog. The operating system written in KL1 is renamed "Parallel Inference Machine Operating System" or PIMOS.


* Edward A.Feigenbaum and Pamela McCorduck, "The Fifth Generation: Artificial Intelligence and Japan's Computer Challenge to the World", Michael Joseph, 1983. ISBN 0-7181-2401-4
*Ehud Shapiro. The family of concurrent logic programming languages ACM Computing Surveys. September 1989.
*Carl Hewitt and Gul Agha. Guarded Horn clause languages: are they deductive and Logical? International Conference on Fifth Generation Computer Systems, Ohmsha 1988. Tokyo.
*Shunichi Uchida and Kazuhiro Fuchi Proceedings of the FGCS Project Evaluation Workshop Institute for New Generation Computer Technology (ICOT). 1992.

External links

* [ What is FGCS Technologies?] - The main page of the project. Includes pictures of prototype machines.
* [ Fifth Generation Computing Conference Report]
* [ The fifth generation: Japan's computer challenge to the world] - 1984 article from Creative Computing
* [ ICOT home page] (now AITRG)
* [ ICOT Free Software]
* [ FGCS museum]
* [ KL1 to C compiler homepage]
* [ Conference proceedings on FGCS]

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