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DARPA funds $11 million tool that will make coding a lot easier

Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
November 9, 2014
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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. Rice University assistant professor Swarat Chaudhuri says he and his co-developers "envision a system where the programmer writes a few of lines of code, hits a button and the rest of the code appears." Also, the parts PLINY conjures up "should work seamlessly with the code that's already been written."

In the video below, Chaudhuri used a sheet of paper with a hole in the middle to represent a programmer's incomplete work. If he uses PLINY to fill that hole, the tool will look through the billions of lines of code in its collection to find possible solutions (represented by different shapes in the video). Once it finds the nearest fit, the tool will clip any unnecessary parts, polish the code further to come up with the best solution it can, and make sure the final product has no security flaws. More than a dozen Rice University researchers will be working on PLINY for the next four years, fueled by the $11 million funding from the Pentagon's mad science division.

[Image credit: Shutterstock / Yellowj]

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