Sunday, May 9, 2021

Did NASA Accept That Sanskrit Is The Best Suited Language For Computer Programming?

Social media is abuzz with hailing Sanskrit as the “best language” for computers, citing a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researcher’s paper.

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While there’s no backing for this claim, several netizens have believed it and even shared it. There’s no concrete information as to how the language can be used for coding or programming. 

Rick Briggs, a researcher at NASA wrote a paper in 1985 titled “Knowledge Representation in Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence” that was published in AI Magazine.

The text from the paper reads – “There is at least one language, Sanskrit, which for the duration of almost 1000 years was a living spoken language with a considerable literature of its own Besides works of literary value, there was a long philosophical and grammatical tradition that has continued to exist with undiminished vigour until the present century. Among the accomplishments of the grammarians can be reckoned a method for paraphrasing Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence.”


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He further explained the aim of the paper was to “demonstrates that a natural language can serve as an artificial language also, and that much work in Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been reinventing a wheel millennia-old”.

Sanskrit: India Has Its Classics Too | The Boston Language Institute
Sanskrit Text

It is important to understand that humans and computers understand different languages. “Natural Languages” are the languages understood by humans like English, Hindi and even Sanskrit. On the other hand, “Machine/Artificial languages” include Lisp or C or Prolog. The major goal of AI at that time was to reach a point where computers understand “natural languages”. 

Briggs just directed the attention towards Sanskrit as one of the natural languages that have existed for a very long time and have its expanse literature. Nowhere does Briggs said that it was “the best” or “the most suitable” language for computers.

NASA has not approved any such claims doing the rounds on social media. “Much of AI research has happened in Lisp, for example, because of its ability to manipulate words and sentences – but Lisp is nearly unheard of outside AI,” wrote Dilip D’Souza of The Scroll. 

He further emphasized that if Sanskrit had been a suitable language, there would have been a software written in Sanskrit by now. 

“Certainly the rigorous rules of Sanskrit grammar have lessons for AI, but writing software is another challenge altogether. The way computers are built requires a certain clear and unmistakable logic in how we give instructions to them. Nobody has yet found a way to do that in any natural language, whether Sanskrit or English,” he added.

However, Indian politician and economist, Subramanian Swamy had blamed the Americans “for globalized use” of the English language and that claimed that Sanskrit will replace English in fifty years.

While the validity of Mr. Swami’s claim will be known in the next fifty years, it can be conclusively said that the claim that Sanskrit is the “most suitable” or the “best” language for computers or AI is false. 

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