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Jess Inventor Opines About Rule Engines and Java : Page 3

Dr. Ernest J. Friedman-Hill, developer of the Java Expert System Shell (Jess), discusses the history and future of his rule engine and speaks out about the application of artificial intelligence and expert systems in real-world Java development.




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JM: Senior software developers face a very practical problem: selling the early adoption or utilization of a technology to management. We have to demonstrate a definite ROI path and business plan to convince management.

What can you tell us about the Fortune 100 companies that are using Jess regarding their due-diligence process, how they integrated it, and how Jess is working for them?

EJF: Broadly, there are three kinds of companies using Jess. First, there are large, established ones who felt a need to improve the way they were performing some vital business function, and were open minded to a new approach. These folks usually use Jess in in-house IT. For example, screening applications in the insurance and financial services industries.

Generally, there's an existing process that is a recognized bottleneck, and someone proposes rule-based programming as an alternative. Such projects are often very successful, because the institutional knowledge of how to solve the problem already exists. Implementing the system just entails codifying that into a rule-based system. Usually this sort of application is J2EE-based.

Another kind of company that successfully uses Jess is an applications service provider that sells consulting services and builds and maintains systems to suit. This kind of company gets to pick the technology best suited to the task at hand, and so if they want to introduce a rule-based solution, they can simply do so. Again, these are usually J2EE applications.

Lastly, there are small shrink-wrap software companies whose entire reason for being is to take a risk and apply new techniques to creating a unique product. They need to justify their approach to the VCs; they often have the luxury of implementing a small prototype and taking measurements that demonstrate an advantage. There are several successful products of this kind on the market that embed Jess right now, and more in development.

JM: What are the enabling technologies that will make expert systems more feasible as components in commercial software in the near future?

We're on the verge of a revolution in applied robotics.
EJF: I don't think we're talking about the future, I think we're talking about now. There have been many advances that have made this possible: better tools for managing large amounts of data, better tools for structuring data, dynamic languages like Java, and faster machines—all developed together in a compatible way, with a path forward from legacy technologies.

JM: Is there any other topic related to Jess and expert systems about which you would like to comment?

EJF: One of the best things about Jess is the community. Over the years that I've been developing Jess I've been fortunate to work closely with many, many really great people. Some people develop Jess extensions, others help design new features, others provide valuable feedback.

JM: If a friend had $10K to invest in an emerging technology, which one would you recommend and why?

EJF: Robotics. I think we're on the verge of a revolution in applied robotics. I don't mean big humanoid robots, I mean little, functional robots like Roomba, the autonomous vacuum cleaner. I think Roomba is only the beginning of a wave of products that will transform our living environments.

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