Not every programming language fades away forever. According to the latest update of the TIOBE Index, which ranks the world’s programming languages, some older languages are enjoying something of a comeback thanks to the increasing popularity of data mining and artificial intelligence (A.I.).
Languages widely used in those disciplines, most notably Python, have jumped up in TIOBE’s rankings over the past year. “Even old languages see a revival because of this, like the surge of Fortran,” read the note accompanying the data. “And, even more astonishing, we see Prolog re-entering the top 20 after 15 years… making an unexpected comeback. Prolog is used in IBM’s Watson, one of the most well-known AI engines.”
There’s one exception to this trend: R, which is often used in academic circles for data-science programming. For years, polls and studies have shown a slow decline in R usage in favor of Python, although R still has its adherents. Over the past 12 months, R has tumbled from eighth place to 14th on TIOBE’s rankings.
To generate those rankings, TIOBE leverages data from a variety of aggregators and search engines, including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Amazon. For a language to rank, it must be Turing complete, have its own Wikipedia entry, and earn more than 5,000 hits for +”<language> programming” on Google. As many have pointed out before, that methodology makes TIOBE a good indicator of a language’s “buzz,” even if some question whether it can truly measure a language’s usage. But in the Index’s defense, buzz is a huge part of whether languages stick around or not.
If developers are increasingly interested in data-mining and A.I.-related languages, that suggests there’s a growing business case for A.I. Indeed, many experts believe that demand for A.I.-related skills will only increase over the next several years; companies want to make everything from consumer-facing apps to backend systems “smarter,” which means they’ll need technologists skilled in everything from computer vision to machine learning.
Those interested in learning Python will find plenty of help. Back in April, SlashData’s State of the Developer Nation suggested that Python had the world’s second-largest programming-language community, at 10.1 million people. Those interested in learning the language may want to start by visiting Python.org, which offers a handy beginner’s guide to programming and Python. You might also consider Microsoft’s video series, “Python for Beginners,” with dozens of lessons (most under five minutes in length; none longer than 13 minutes).