Humanising AI: The 30 year project to build a brain

Since 1984, Cycorp has been discreetly working on an advanced artificial intelligence system, Cyc, that could “humanise” robots and objects with highly developed understanding and reasoning capabilities.

From C-3PO in the Star Wars franchise to Bender in the Futurama television series, the idea of having super-intelligent robots that behave like humans has long fascinated people. Apple’s introduction of Siri gave us a taste of what it’s like to have daily interactions with an intelligent system, but anyone who has used Siri knows that (s)he has limits and flaws.

So what is it that makes Cyc’s artificial intelligence seem less, well, artificial?

The key is a focus on building Cyc’s ability to make inferences so that it can execute commands without needing every specific action pre-coded.

“It’s the difference between someone who understands what they’re doing and someone going through the motions of performing something,” said Cycorp president and CEO Doug Lenat in an interview with Business Insider.

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Cycorp has been quietly building Cyc for the last 30 years in a process that is more like educating than programming, with the goal of implementing the system with human knowledge and logic.

The idea of a computer like Cyc immediately conjures images of robots that can complete daily tasks for you, à la Rosie the housemaid from The Jetsons. While these robots would be immensely useful, Cycorp envisions even more.

In a preview for the Ginormous Systems conference that was held in Washington DC last year, Lenat discussed a future that is revolutionised by intelligent systems, saying “every door, every bicycle, every bridge will have the suitable sort of RFID tip, will have its own address and you’ll be able to go up and have a conversation with it, sort of like you do with Siri today.”

Clearly, Lenat sees Cyc as part of this future. If Cyc could be installed into these everyday objects, “humanising” things could become a reality.

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For now, Cyc is still being developed into the brain-like system that Cycorp envisions, but it is already being put to use as a sixth grade maths teacher. Cyc works with students by acting as one of them.

The student tries to help it understand how to solve the problems, and through this process Cyc learns what the student is confused about and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

Cycorp’s inference-focused artificial intelligence promises a whole new kind of robot, one that can take many forms but “think” with an intelligence that is unprecedentedly human.


Featured image courtesy of Roger Schultz, first body image is a screenshot from Futurama S06 E17, “Benderama” .


DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”