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Computer: Programming
articulate programming   (+14)  [vote for, against]
Software that can explain itself.

Literate programming combines software with its documentation (comments++) to create a work of technical literature which can be both read and compiled.

Articulate programming goes one step further. The code is annotated with natural-language explanation (at both high and low levels, across software components, in a way suitable for the current user's level of technical expertise) so that it can actually explain what it's doing to the user.

``Error loading Web page.'' (Note: lots of software stops here.)

Click: ``Why?''

``Host not reachable connecting to IP'' (Note: even the best software stops here.)

Click: ``Why were you <connecting to IP>?''

``The user followed a link to host, no proxy is configured, and the resolver listed IP for''

Click: ``Why did you think <no proxy is configured>?''

``Could not read proxy configuration file /etc/foo, using default behavior.''

Click: ``Why couldn't you <read proxy configuration file>?''

``open("/foo/bar",O_RDONLY) returned "Permission denied."''


This is obviously useful for troubleshooting, but also helpful for when software does something unexpected. ``Why did you just highlight that?'' It would also be a great educational aid, teaching people what actually goes on behind the scenes without overwhelming them.
-- egnor, Apr 28 2000

Self-Describing GA http://www.halfbake...elf-Describing%20GA
The œ-bakery idea that inspired me to post this one. [egnor, Apr 28 2000, last modified Oct 05 2004]

How To Write Unmaintainable Code
The antithesis of this idea... [dgeiser13, Apr 28 2000, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Most expert systems do behave in this manner. Using recent generation tools like Prolog-III or OZ (constraint-based language) one programs by specifying rules, rather than explicitly specifying behavior. Because execution means applying rules until a resulting correct behavior is found to execute, one can work at a 'meta-level' and ask the system what rules it applied to come to the conclusion it did. In the last few years PCs have become powerful enough, and logic and constraint-based languages efficient enough, to use this technique in popular applications. We just do not have enough programmers trained in these techniques or we would see more apps already.
-- yogibear, Apr 28 2000

whoa -- this is like a stack trace on drugs :) Implementing a system like this would force programmgers to explicitly define what each part of a program does in a sort of outline form, which has the additional side-effect of making programs much more readable, and source documentation much more comprehensive.
-- illya23b, Jan 04 2001

Yes, that's the idea.
-- egnor, Jan 04 2001

"I still have no idea why the app crashed, but I think I'm finally ready to forgive my parents."
-- Monkfish, Jan 04 2001

I'm not sure the documentation would have to be that cumbersome, as part of coding any project (in an ideal world) you already have a design doc implemented that contains a flowchart mapping every possible function call and result. If there was a system for inputting and reading this flowchart, along with some natural language (NL) text strings, one could conceivably imaging the beginings of such a NL error response framework. Of course even your OS would have to return NL text formatted error messages, or you would have to compile a lookup table with common error numbers and associated NL strings.

I think this is a bloody brilliant idea, and can't believe I didn't come up with it myself, what with all the coding I do. Of course, I've prolly just habituated to accept "Segfault. [BLAH]" as a valid error message...
-- Reverend_Cobol, Nov 04 2003

"Error loading Web page.''
Click: "Why?''
"Host not reachable connecting to IP''
Click: "Why were you <connecting to IP>?''
"Error finding next message."
User: "Umm..."

That Unmaintainable Code essay is brilliant. I have followed it wherever possible, and it has never led me astray. ;)
-- Detly, Nov 04 2003

This might give you problems in an environment where one program (written nicely in this new way) had to interact with a bunch of programs (or components, libraries, etc.) not written in this way.

I can imagine finding that the explanation petered out just as it was about to get interesting, and then cursing a lot.

I suppose that's similar to what [Detly] said.
-- pertinax, Jun 07 2006

random, halfbakery