AI with 31 years’ worth of knowledge ready to go to work

Having spent the past 31 years memorizing an astonishing collection of general knowledge, the artificial-intelligence engine created by Doug Lenat is finally ready to go to work.

Lenat’s creation is Cyc, a knowledge base of semantic information designed to give computers some understanding of how things work in the real world…

And now, after years of work, Lenat’s system is being commercialized by a company called Lucid.

“Part of the reason is the doneness of Cyc,” explains Lenat, who left his post as a professor at Stanford to start the project in late 1984. “Not that there’s nothing else to do,” he says. But he notes that most of what is left to be added is relevant to a specific area of expertise, such as finance or oncology…

Michael Stewart, a longtime collaborator of Lenat’s and the CEO of Lucid, says the new company is in talks with various others interested in using the Cyc knowledge base. Lucid has been working with the Cleveland Clinic, for example, to help automate the process of finding patients for clinical studies. This involved adding new information to the Cyc knowledge base and a new front-end interface that allows doctors to input natural-language queries such as “Find patients with bacteria after a pericardial window.” Lucid should not only find the right candidate patients but provide a clear chain of logical reasoning for why it selected them…

Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University and the cofounder of an AI company called Geometric Intelligence, says Lucid is interesting because it aims to address some of the shortcomings of popular approaches. “Cyc has a reputation for being unwieldy, and for the last decade hardly anything has been said about it publicly,” Marcus says. “At the same time, it represents an approach that is very different from all the deep-learning stuff that has been in the news.”

Marcus agrees that recent advances, which have enabled computers to process images and audio with human-like skills, are somewhat limited. “Deep learning is mainly about perception,” he says, “but there is a lot of inference involved in everyday human reasoning, and Cyc represents a serious effort to grapple with the subtlety of that inference. I don’t know what will emerge, but I am eager to see.”

The most interesting direction I see in software like this would be in lifetime mentoring – starting with tutoring the very young. The idea being that the AI would learn how their pupil is growing and learning and adjust to provide course correction and a useful level of guidance to aid in choices – without interfering in self-realization, self-guidance.

I’ve studied proposals like that over the past decade. Haven’t yet seen or heard of any long-term success.

Visualizing Asian energy consumption


Click on graphic or refresh to see animation

I’ve heard it many times before. Remarkable growth in Asia is leading to big increases in coal consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions. But I didn’t have a good sense of just how big that change has been until I saw this graphic from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Asia’s coal use was smaller than Europe’s in 1980. Now it dwarfs coal consumption even in North America, the world’s second-largest consumer.

Stunning – as a reflection of fossil fuel consumption, energy production. Without differentiating the portion of coal consumed as metallurgical versus thermal coal we’re still looking at enormous growth in industrial potential.

The concurrent pollution problems help to understand why China is fast becoming the world’s leading manufacturer of alternative energy devices. Their conversion rate to solar and wind power is close to first – though still behind Europe. They’re trying equally fast to catch up to and surpass nations like France in nuclear power generation. They have to. That burgeoning middle class is starting to make lifestyle demands to match their growing wealth and education.

Tokyo’s ‘oldest man’ dead for 30 years

A man listed as the oldest living male in Tokyo died some 30 years ago, city officials said after his body was found mummified in his bed.

Police visited the home of Sogen Kato at the request of ward officials updating their list of centenarians ahead of Respect for the Elderly Day in September. Kato was born July 22, 1899, which would have made him 111.

Japanese welfare officials have tried to meet Kato since earlier this year, but his family members repeatedly chased them away, saying Kato was well but didn’t want to see anyone, said Tomoko Iwamatsu, an official at Tokyo’s downtown Adachi Ward, where Kato lived.

Officials grew suspicious and sought an investigation by police, who forced their way into the house Wednesday. Police said the mummified body believed to be Kato was lying in his bed, wearing underwear and pyjamas, covered with a blanket.

His granddaughter told investigators Kato holed up in his room about 30 years ago after declaring he wanted to be a living Buddha, police and Tokyo officials said. They believe Kato died soon after that.

Tokyo police were investigating possible crimes on suspicion Kato’s family received pension money of the man and his dead wife.

Uh, OK. Usual reasons. But, still – that’s a long time to keep the hustle rolling.

Man posed as doctor for 30 years

Police in Japan’s Chiba prefecture said they have arrested a man who allegedly posed as a medical doctor for about 30 years.

Yukio Hasegawa, 65, was arrested on suspicion of practicing medicine without a license under the assumed name of a real doctor…

Hasegawa allegedly told police he learned about medical treatment in 1978 by reading patients’ charts while he was working as an X-ray vehicle driver in Tokyo.

Is this a cautionary tale on reading skills or mediocre doctors?