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Friday, 4 July 2014

The Most Ambitious Artificial Intelligence Project In The World Has Been Operating In Near-Secrecy For 30 Years

Business Insider

“We’ve been keeping a very low profile, mostly intentionally,” said Doug Lenat, President and CEO of Cycorp. “No outside investments, no debts. We don’t write very many articles or go to conferences, but for the first time, we’re close to having this be applicable enough that we want to talk to you.”

IBM’s Watson and Apple’s Siri stirred up a hunger and awareness throughout the United States for something like a Star Trek computer that really worked — an artificially intelligent system that could receive instructions in plain, spoken language, make the appropriate inferences, and carry out its instructions without needing to have millions and millions of subroutines hard-coded into it.

As we’ve established, that stuff is very hard. But Cycorp’s goal is to codify general human knowledge and common sense so that computers might make use of it.

Cycorp charged itself with figuring out the tens of millions of pieces of data we rely on as humans — the knowledge that helps us understand the world — and to represent them in a formal way that machines can use to reason. The company’s been working continuously since 1984 and next month marks its 30th anniversary.

“Many of the people are still here from 30 years ago — Mary Shepherd and I started [Cycorp] in August of 1984 and we’re both still working on it,” Lenat said. “It’s the most important project one could work on, which is why this is what we’re doing. It will amplify human intelligence.”
It’s only a slight stretch to say Cycorp is building a brain out of software, and they’re doing it from scratch.

“Any time you look at any kind of real life piece of text or utterance that one human wrote or said to another human, it’s filled with analogies, modal logic, belief, expectation, fear, nested modals, lots of variables and quantifiers,” Lenat said. “Everyone else is looking for a free-lunch way to finesse that. Shallow chatbots show a veneer of intelligence or statistical learning from large amounts of data. Amazon and Netflix recommend books and movies very well without understanding in any way what they’re doing or why someone might like something.

“It’s the difference between someone who understands what they’re doing and someone going through the motions of performing something.”

Cycorp’s product, Cyc, isn’t “programmed” in the conventional sense. It’s much more accurate to say it’s being “taught.” Lenat told us that most people think of computer programs as “procedural, [like] a flowchart,” but building Cyc is “much more like educating a child.”

“We’re using a consistent language to build a model of the world,” he said.

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