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Fifth generation computer

Fifth generation computer

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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
History of computing hardware
The history of computing hardware is the record of the ongoing effort to make computer hardware faster, cheaper, and capable of storing more data....

) 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
A supercomputer is a computer at the frontline of current processing capacity, particularly speed of calculation.Supercomputers are used for highly calculation-intensive tasks such as problems including quantum physics, weather forecasting, climate research, molecular modeling A supercomputer is a...

-like performance and to provide a platform for future developments in artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...


The term fifth generation was intended to convey the system as being a leap beyond existing machines. Computers using vacuum tube
Vacuum tube
In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube , or thermionic valve , reduced to simply "tube" or "valve" in everyday parlance, is a device that relies on the flow of electric current through a vacuum...

s were called the first generation; transistor
A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and power. It is composed of a semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current...

s and diode
In electronics, a diode is a type of two-terminal electronic component with a nonlinear current–voltage characteristic. A semiconductor diode, the most common type today, is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material connected to two electrical terminals...

s, the second; integrated circuit
Integrated circuit
An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is an electronic circuit manufactured by the patterned diffusion of trace elements into the surface of a thin substrate of semiconductor material...

s, the third; and those using microprocessor
A microprocessor incorporates the functions of a computer's central processing unit on a single integrated circuit, or at most a few integrated circuits. It is a multipurpose, programmable device that accepts digital data as input, processes it according to instructions stored in its memory, and...

s, 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.
The project was to create the computer over a ten year period, after which it was considered ended and investment in a new, Sixth Generation project, began. Opinions about its outcome are divided: Either it was a failure, or it was ahead of its time.


In the late 1960s and early '70s, there was much talk about "generations" of computer hardware — usually "three generations".
  1. First generation: Vacuum tubes. Mid-1940s. IBM pioneered the arrangement of vacuum tubes in pluggable modules. The IBM 650
    IBM 650
    The IBM 650 was one of IBM’s early computers, and the world’s first mass-produced computer. It was announced in 1953, and over 2000 systems were produced between the first shipment in 1954 and its final manufacture in 1962...

     was a first-generation computer.
  2. Second generation: Transistors. 1956. The era of miniaturization begins. Transistors are much smaller than vacuum tubes, draw less power, and generate less heat. Discrete transistors are soldered to circuit boards, with interconnections accomplished by stencil-screened conductive patterns on the reverse side. The IBM 7090
    IBM 7090
    The IBM 7090 was a second-generation transistorized version of the earlier IBM 709 vacuum tube mainframe computers and was designed for "large-scale scientific and technological applications". The 7090 was the third member of the IBM 700/7000 series scientific computers. The first 7090 installation...

     was a second-generation computer.
  3. Third generation: Integrated circuits (silicon chips containing multiple transistors). 1964. A pioneering example is the ACPX module used in the IBM 360/91, which, by stacking layers of silicon over a ceramic substrate, accommodated over 20 transistors per chip; the chips could be packed together onto a circuit board to achieve unheard-of logic densities. The IBM 360/91 was a hybrid second- and third-generation computer.

Omitted from this taxonomy is the "zeroth-generation" computer based on metal gears (such as the IBM 4077) or mechanical relays (such as the Mark I), and the post-third-generation computers based on Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuits.

There was also a parallel set of generations for software:
  1. First generation
    First-generation programming language
    A first-generation programming language is a machine-level programming language.Originally, no translator was used to compile or assemble the first-generation language. The first-generation programming instructions were entered through the front panel switches of the computer system....

    : Machine language.
  2. Second generation
    Second-generation programming language
    Second-generation programming language is a generational way to categorise assembly languages. The term was coined to provide a distinction from higher level third-generation programming languages such as COBOL and earlier machine code languages. Second-generation programming languages have the...

    : Assembly language
    Assembly language
    An assembly language is a low-level programming language for computers, microprocessors, microcontrollers, and other programmable devices. It implements a symbolic representation of the machine codes and other constants needed to program a given CPU architecture...

  3. Third generation
    Third-generation programming language
    A third-generation programming language is a refinement of a second-generation programming language. The second generation of programming languages brought logical structure to software. The third generation brought refinements to make the languages more programmer-friendly...

    : Structured programming languages such as C
    C (programming language)
    C is a general-purpose computer programming language developed between 1969 and 1973 by Dennis Ritchie at the Bell Telephone Laboratories for use with the Unix operating system....

    , COBOL
    COBOL is one of the oldest programming languages. Its name is an acronym for COmmon Business-Oriented Language, defining its primary domain in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments....

     and FORTRAN
    Fortran is a general-purpose, procedural, imperative programming language that is especially suited to numeric computation and scientific computing...

  4. Fourth generation
    Fourth-generation programming language
    A fourth-generation programming language is a programming language or programming environment designed with a specific purpose in mind, such as the development of commercial business software. In the history of computer science, the 4GL followed the 3GL in an upward trend toward higher...

    : Domain-specific languages such as SQL
    SQL is a programming language designed for managing data in relational database management systems ....

     (for database
    A database is an organized collection of data for one or more purposes, usually in digital form. The data are typically organized to model relevant aspects of reality , in a way that supports processes requiring this information...

     access) and TeX
    TeX is a typesetting system designed and mostly written by Donald Knuth and released in 1978. Within the typesetting system, its name is formatted as ....

     (for text formatting)

Background and design philosophy

Throughout these multiple generations up to the 1990s, Japan had largely been a follower in the computing arena, building computers following U.S. and British leads. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry
Ministry of International Trade and Industry
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry was one of the most powerful agencies of the Government of Japan. At the height of its influence, it effectively ran much of Japanese industrial policy, funding research and directing investment...

 (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.

Prior to the 1970s, MITI guidance had successes such as an improved steel industry, the creation of the oil supertanker, the automotive industry, consumer electronics, and computer memory. MITI decided that the future was going to be information technology
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

. However, the Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 language, in both written and spoken form, presented and still presents major obstacles for computers. These hurdles could not be taken lightly. So MITI held a conference and invited people around the world to help them.

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
Parallel processing
Parallel processing is the ability to carry out multiple operations or tasks simultaneously. The term is used in the contexts of both human cognition, particularly in the ability of the brain to simultaneously process incoming stimuli, and in parallel computing by machines.-Parallel processing by...

 computer running on top of massive database
A database is an organized collection of data for one or more purposes, usually in digital form. The data are typically organized to model relevant aspects of reality , in a way that supports processes requiring this information...

s (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
Inference is the act or process of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true. The conclusion drawn is also called an idiomatic. The laws of valid inference are studied in the field of logic.Human inference Inference is the act or process of deriving logical conclusions...

 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
Consumer electronics
Consumer electronics are electronic equipment intended for everyday use, most often in entertainment, communications and office productivity. Radio broadcasting in the early 20th century brought the first major consumer product, the broadcast receiver...

 field during the 1970s
File:1970s decade montage.png|From left, clockwise: US President Richard Nixon doing the V for Victory sign after his resignation from office after the Watergate scandal in 1974; Refugees aboard a US naval boat after the Fall of Saigon, leading to the end of the Vietnam War in 1975; The 1973 oil...

 and apparently doing the same in the automotive world during the 1980s
File:1980s decade montage.png|thumb|400px|From left, clockwise: The first Space Shuttle, Columbia, lifted off in 1981; American President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev eased tensions between the two superpowers, leading to the end of the Cold War; The Fall of the Berlin Wall in...

, the Japanese in the 1980s had a reputation for invincibility. Soon parallel projects were set up in the US as the Strategic Computing Initiative
Strategic Computing Initiative
The United States government's Strategic Computing Initiative funded research into advanced computer hardware and artificial intelligence from 1983 to 1993...

 and the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation
Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation
Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation was the first, and - at one time - one of the largest, computer industry research and development consortia in the United States....

 (MCC), in the UK as Alvey
The Alvey Programme was a British government sponsored research program in information technology that ran from 1983 to 1987. The program was a reaction to the Japanese Fifth generation computer project.Focus areas for the Alvey Programme included:...

, and in Europe as the European Strategic Program on Research in Information Technology (ESPRIT), as well as ECRC (European Computer Research Centre) in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, a collaboration between ICL in Britain, Bull
Groupe Bull
-External links:* * — Friends, co-workers and former employees of Bull and Honeywell* *...

 in France, and Siemens
Siemens may refer toSiemens, a German family name carried by generations of telecommunications industrialists, including:* Werner von Siemens , inventor, founder of Siemens AG...

 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
Database management system
A database management system is a software package with computer programs that control the creation, maintenance, and use of a database. It allows organizations to conveniently develop databases for various applications by database administrators and other specialists. A database is an integrated...

 Kappa, the legal reasoning system HELIC-II, and the automated theorem prover MGTP, as well as applications to bioinformatics
Bioinformatics is the application of computer science and information technology to the field of biology and medicine. Bioinformatics deals with algorithms, databases and information systems, web technologies, artificial intelligence and soft computing, information and computation theory, software...



The FGCS Project did not meet with commercial success for reasons similar to the Lisp machine
Lisp machine
Lisp machines were general-purpose computers designed to efficiently run Lisp as their main software language. In a sense, they were the first commercial single-user workstations...

 companies and Thinking Machines. The highly parallel computer architecture was eventually surpassed in speed by less specialized hardware (for example, Sun workstation
SUN workstation
The original SUN workstation was a modular computer system designed at Stanford University in the early 1980s.-History:The project name was derived from Stanford University Network, the campus network within Stanford....

s 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. However 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
Concurrent constraint logic programming
Concurrent constraint logic programming is a version of constraint logic programming aimed primarily at programming concurrent processes rather than solving constraint satisfaction problems...

 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 workstation
A workstation is a high-end microcomputer designed for technical or scientific applications. Intended primarily to be used by one person at a time, they are commonly connected to a local area network and run multi-user operating systems...

s 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, GUI
Gui or guee is a generic term to refer to grilled dishes in Korean cuisine. These most commonly have meat or fish as their primary ingredient, but may in some cases also comprise grilled vegetables or other vegetarian ingredients. The term derives from the verb, "gupda" in Korean, which literally...

s became mainstream in computers; the internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 enabled locally stored databases to become distributed; and even simple research projects provided better real-world results in data mining. Moreover the project found that the promises of logic programming
Logic programming
Logic programming is, in its broadest sense, the use of mathematical logic for computer programming. In this view of logic programming, which can be traced at least as far back as John McCarthy's [1958] advice-taker proposal, logic is used as a purely declarative representation language, and a...

 were largely negated by the use of committed choice.

At the end of the ten year period the project had spent over ¥50 billion (about US$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 parallel to the Lisp machine market, where rule-based systems such as CLIPS
CLIPS is a public domain software tool for building expert systems. The name is an acronym for "C Language Integrated Production System." The syntax and name was inspired by Charles Forgy's OPS...

 could run on general-purpose computers, making expensive Lisp machines unnecessary.

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
Web Ontology Language
The Web Ontology Language is a family of knowledge representation languages for authoring ontologies.The languages are characterised by formal semantics and RDF/XML-based serializations for the Semantic Web...

 (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.


  • 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 Sequential Inference Machine Programming Operating System (SIMPOS) operating system is released. SIMPOS is programmed in Kernel Language 0 (KL0), a concurrent Prolog
    Prolog is a general purpose logic programming language associated with artificial intelligence and computational linguistics.Prolog has its roots in first-order logic, a formal logic, and unlike many other programming languages, Prolog is declarative: the program logic is expressed in terms of...

    -variant with object oriented extensions.

External links