Britain, France explore 'expert' computer field
Companies in France and the United Kingdom are following the American lead into the business of ''expert systems'' - computers programmed to simulate the background knowledge and reasoning process of human experts.
In a move announced last week, Framatome, France's biggest builder of nuclear power stations, is joining forces with Teknowledge of California to sell the new systems. Framatome says it wants to venture into other high-technology areas besides the commercially moribund nuclear business.
Teknowledge, based in Palo Alto, was formed two years ago to push university work in advanced computers into the business world. Many Teknowledge workers once studied at, or have strong links with, Stanford University, home of much research in computing. The new joint company will be called Framentec.
The move in France follows efforts in the United Kingdom to commercialize expert systems. Besides such electronics companies as International Computers Ltd. and General Electric Company (no relation to the GE in the United States), the oil giant BP Ltd. and Imperial Chemical Industries have teams looking into the applications of expert systems. The government recently announced a (STR)350 million ($550 million) program to support work in new forms of computing, including expert systems.
And last year Racal, one of Britain's fastest-growing makers of defense electronics, formed an expert-systems division. David Hawkins, head of the division, says sales prospects in this area ''look very good.''
Racal is concentrating on expert systems that contain the reasoning resources of people proficient in evaluating oil-field surveys. The company hopes to sell the systems to oil companies that would use them in prospecting work.
Michel Rozenholc, boss of the new Franco-American venture, will remain vice-president of Framatome. Mr. Rozenholc expects to attract such customers as government agencies interpreting economic statistics and electronics companies that need to discover, often from highly complex data, what is wrong with a set of faulty components.
In expert systems, sets of rules corresponding to the reasoning of people knowledgeable in a particular topic are fed into the memory of a computer. Then clients can ask the machine questions, in much the same way they would request information from human experts.
Much of the all-important software-design work in the new joint company will be done in Palo Alto. The company also plans a laboratory in Monaco.
In one contract in the US, Teknowledge is working on a system for NCR Corporation that will advise workers on the best way to assemble the parts of complicated computers. Another piece of hardware Teknowledge is working on, this time for defense contractor TRW Inc., will make sense of conflicting pieces of military information for use in a battle or a full-scale war.