APL Colloquium

October 29, 1999

Colloquium Topic: Computers With Common Sense: The CYC Project

Computers today are idiot-savants. They may manage bits flawlessly and furiously, but they have no understanding of what those bits signify. And they have poor models of themselves and of the human beings they serve and represent. To break that "brittleness bottleneck," a new software layer is needed that contains the millions of things the average person knows about the world. Some of this is factual, such as who's the current President of the US; but most of the needed content is more like rules of thumb, such as why you should carry a glass of water open-end up. In terms of a newspaper or book, we are talking about codifying the whitespace - the things the authors don't need to bother saying (e.g., the White House is in Washington, D.C.; tables have flat horizontal tops; appliances stop working during a power failure.) Since 1984, Dr. Lenat has spent 4 person-centuries to build that artifact. He will describe what they did, why, and some of the lessons they learned about representing commonsense knowledge, and doing reasoning in huge knowledge-based systems. He will also discuss some current and future commercial applications of their technology (CYC).

Colloquium Speaker: Douglas B. Lenat

Dr. Douglas B. Lenat is founder and President of Cycorp, which promotes research in and commercialization of the CYC common-sense knowledge base and inference system. He has been a professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon University and Stanford University, and has authored hundreds of publications. Dr. Lenat spent two decades doing pioneering research in natural-language understanding, automatic program synthesis, and machine learning. But in 1984, he concluded that each of these areas of Artificial Intelligence had hit a brick wall - the very same brick wall - namely the need for the programs to have the same breadth and depth of common-sense knowledge as people do. To achieve that, Dr. Lenat formed the CYC common-sense project at MCC in Austin in 1984; the project reached fruition, as planned, after a decade and spun off as a separate company, Cycorp.