LISP stands for List Processing. In this functional programming language, programs look like lists and can be treated as data (hence the name). It was designed by John McCarthy (one of the official founders of the AI field) starting in 1958.

Many people know that LISP is historically a very important programming language in AI. Even today, dialects of LISP are still being used in this context.

Which historically relevant programs were developed in the context of AI using LISP in the early days of the AI field (so starting roughly in 1956)?


Many historically relevant programs were implemented in LISP in the early days of AI. Here's a non-exhaustive list.

Name Author Source Year Brief description/comment
Symbolic Automatic INTegrator (SAINT) James R. Slagle [1] 1963 A symbolic integretation program
ANALOGY Thomas G. Evans [2] 1964 It solves geometric analogy problems
Semantic Information Retrieval (SIR) Bertram Raphael [3] 1964 A "machine understanding" program
QA3 C. Cordell Green (and Robert Yates) [4] 1969 A resolution-based deduction system, which was an attempt to improve on Raphael's SIR; QA3 is the successor of QA2 and QA1
SEE Adolfo Guzman-Arenas [5] 1969 A program to segment a line drawing of a scene containing blocks into its constituents
Stanford Research Institute Problem Solver (STRIPS) Richard Fikes & Nils Nilsson [6] ~1970 A planning system used in the Shakey robot
SHRDLU Terry Winograd [7] 1971 A NLP dialog system, which was only partially written in LISP
MYCIN Edward (Ted) Shortliffe [8] ~1970 An expert system that would consult with physicians about bacterial infections and therapy; MYCYN is a common suffix for antibacterial [9] [9]; the specific version of LISP used was BBN-LISP
Language Interface Facility with Elliptical and Recursive Features (LIFER) Gary Hendrix [10] 1976 A program to interact with databases in a subset of natural language (e.g. English); the specific version of LISP used was INTERLISP, a successor of BBN-LISP

In addition to these programs, many of the implementations of the conceptual structures by Roger C. Schank were implemented in LISP [8].

Later, LISP was also used by John Koza in the context of GP (but this was already in the 90s). In 1998, NASA also developed in LISP Works the "Remote Agent" (RA), a robotic system for planning and executing spacecraft actions, in the context of Deep Space 1 [8].

  • $\begingroup$ Is GNU guile a Lisp (probably yes)? Is it AI (in my opinion, no)? And Pitrat's book Artificial Beings - the conscience of a conscious machine is about AI and does not even mention Lisp. He actually never coded in Lisp (because John McCarthy did not gave him any Lisp implementation) $\endgroup$ Dec 5 '21 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @BasileStarynkevitch I am not familiar with GNU Guile. I quickly read that linked page and it seems to be an implementation of Scheme, which is derived from Lisp. To be honest, I don't think that Lisp is more special than any other programming language that we have today (at least the ones that I am aware of), when it comes to AI. Lisp was definitely an important language in the early days, as my answer here confirms, but, today, of course, you don't use only/primarily Lisp in AI. People use programming langs that are suitable for the job. For example, you use C++ because it's efficient. $\endgroup$
    – nbro
    Dec 5 '21 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ You could also generate C code. Or machine code (using asmjit...). And again, Jacques Pitrat never used Lisp.... And his PhD was about AI and defended in 1962 in Paris $\endgroup$ Dec 5 '21 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @nbro Yes, guile is a Scheme implementation. Lisp is useful for research & development, due to its interactive nature, but I guess few people are used to it these days. $\endgroup$ Jan 3 at 22:08

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