THE COMMON BUSINESS
Computer Science Department
Stanford, CA 94305
1999 May 7, 1:55 p.m.
This paper, written in 1975, published in 1982 [McC82] in the
proceedings of a conference whose title was in German, seems to be
worth reviving in 1998, because some of its ideas are new in 1998 (I’m
told) and are relevant to the new interest in electronic commerce.
1 The Problem of Inter-computer Communi-
Here are some ideas about the value of a common business communication
language (CBCL for short) and what its characteristics might be. Besides its
practical significance, CBCL raises issues concerning the semantics of natural
The need for such a language was suggested to me by an article by Paul
Baran [Bar67].1 In this article, Baran envisaged a world of the future in which
11998 footnote: The question became salient for me when I attended a DARPA meeting
in 1969 at which the Navy’s Fleet Data System was described.
companies would be well equipped with on-line computer systems. The in-
ventory control computer of company A would write on the screen of a clerk
in the purchasing department a statement that 1000 gross of such-and-such
pencils were needed and that they should be purchased from company B.
The clerk would turn to her typewriter and type out a purchase order. At
company B another clerk would receive the purchase order and turn to her
terminal and tell the computer to arrange to ship the pencils. Eliminat-
ing both clerks by having the computers speak directly to each other was
not mentioned. Perhaps the author felt that he was already straining the
credulity of his audience.
Suppose we wish to eliminate the clerks by having the computers speak
directly to each other. What are the requirements?
First, computers do communicate directly now (1975). In the late 1950s the
Social Security Administration announced a format for IBM seven channel
magnetic tape on which