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The largest qualitative gap between human performance and computer performance is in the area of heuristics, even though the gap is disguised in many applications by the millions-fold speed advantage of computers. The general purpose theorem proving programs run very slowly, and the special purpose programs are very specialized in their heuristics.

I think the problem lies in our present inability to give programs domain and problem dependent heuristic advice. In my Advice Taker paper [McCarthy, 1959] I advertised that the Advice Taker would express its heuristics declaratively. Maybe that will work, but neither I nor anyone else has been able to get a start on the problem in the ensuing almost 40 years. Josefina Sierra-Santibanez reports on some progress in a forthcoming article.

Another possibility is to express the advice in a procedure modification language, i.e. to extend elaboration tolerance to programs. Of course, every kind of modularity, e.g. object orientation, gives some elaboration tolerance, but these devices haven't been good enough.

Ideally, a general purpose reasoning system would be able to accept advice permitting it to run at a fixed ratio speed of speeds to a special purpose program, e.g. at 1/20 th the speed.

John McCarthy
Sun Apr 19 15:21:34 PDT 1998