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Abstract

Abstract

Usability and usefulness have made the spreadsheet one of the most successful computing applications of all times: millions rely on it every day for anything from typing grocery lists to developing multimillion dollar budgets. One thing spreadsheets are not very good at is manipulating symbolic data and helping users make decisions based on them. By tapping into recent research in logic programming, databases and cognitive psychology, we propose a deductive extension to the spreadsheet paradigm which addresses precisely this issue. The accompanying tool, which we call NEXCEL, is intended as an automated assistant for the daily reasoning and decision-making needs of computer users, in the same way as a spreadsheet application such as Microsoft Excel assists them every day with calculations simple and complex. Users without formal training in logic or computer science can interactively define logical rules in the same simple way as they define formulas in Excel. NEXCEL immediately evaluates these rules thereby returning lists of values that satisfy them, again just like with numerical formulas. The deductive component is seamlessly integrated into the traditional spreadsheet so that a user not only still has access to the usual functionalities, but is able to use them as part of the logical inference and, additionally, to embed deductive steps in a numerical calculation.

Under the hood, NEXCEL uses a small logic programming language inspired by Datalog to define derived relations: the target region of the spreadsheet contains a set of logical clauses in the same way that calculated cells contain a numerical formula in a traditional spreadsheet. Therefore, logical reasoning reduces to computing tables of data by evaluating Datalog-like definitions, a process that parallels the calculation of numerical formulas. Each row in the calculated relation is a tuple of values satisfying the definition for this relation, so that the evaluated table lists all such solutions, without repetitions. This linguistic extension significantly enriches the expressive power of the spreadsheet paradigm. Yet, it is provided to the user through a natural extension of the mostly excellent interfaces of modern spreadsheet applications.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarf.2011.CSP25
2011-11-20
2020-08-06
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