Snippets From SXSW Interactive 2003

Doug Lenat Keynote Speech

Sunday, March 9, 2-3:30pm
Doug Lenat, founder of Cycorp, has been working on Artificial Intelligence for 20 years, and his work has advanced to the point where his PDA can now give him advice about liability insurance for his new Segway. OK, so we're still a ways from producing a pathos-ridden machine's like 2001's HAL, but Lenat's keynote plainly mapped the challenges to teaching computers to think. The problem, essentially, is that no one has ever bothered to write down the mundane details that drive human reality so that they can be taught to a computer. "We have plenty of written material contemplating philosophy," he said. "And tomes written about the minutia of certain subjects. But what is missing are the things that we all take for granted, things like people sleep at night and people sleep lying down. We look at books and try and pinpoint the facts that the authors don't bother to explain because it would be insulting or confusing to the audience. And those are the things our computer needs to learn."

Lenat said that it proved impossible for computers to learn these foundational principles on their own. So for 20 years, Lenat and his fellow researchers have painstakingly inputted what he calls "the codification of human reality." This database was fed to their computer, known as CYC (pronounced "psych"), which has finally reached a point where it has enough knowledge to begin to learn on its own. Before, said Lenat, only 100 scientists knew how to interact with CYC. Now CYC knows enough to communicate with you, and Lenat invited the audience to teach it how you think at www.opencyc.com.

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