DARPA is funding a new project by Rice University called PLINY, and it’s neither a killer robot nor a high-tech weapon. PLINY, named after Pliny the Elder who wrote one of the earliest encyclopedias ever, will actually be a tool that can automatically complete a programmer’s draft, and yes, it will work somewhat like the autocomplete on your smartphones. Its developers describe it as a repository of terabytes upon terabytes of all the open-source code they’ll find, which people will be able to query in order to easily create complex software or quickly finish a simple one.
Nowadays, if you start typing something into Google, it tries to guess what you’re looking for. Type “Wi,” and it might suggest “Wikipedia.” Key in “Bra,” and it’ll guess “Brad Pitt. Yes, these “autocomplete” suggestions are sometimes hilariously off the mark, but more often than not, they’re rather accurate, providing a handy shortcut to what you want. Now, a government-backed research team wants to provide similar suggestions to the world’s programmers as they’re writing computer code. That’s right: the aim is to guess what programmers are coding before they code it. This week, Rice University said that Darpa, the Pentagon’s mad science division, has invested $11 million in this autocomplete programming project, dubbed PLINY, after the ancient Roman author of the first encyclopedia, “Text search prediction is the best analogy,” says Vivek Sarkar, the chair of the computer science department at Rice and the principal investigator on the project. “People will be able to will be able to pick from a list of possible solutions.”