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” .


Steve “Woz” Wozniak to advise hologram emoji company that he calls “groundbreaking”

Apple’s co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak has found himself a new gig; Woz has joined the hologram emoji company, Mojiit, as an adviser.

In his role as advisor to Mojiit, the legendary entrepreneur and engineer will help assemble a world-class engineering team in addition to bringing investors and partnerships to the newly launched startup. Wozniak will also serve as mentor to Mojiit founder, Jeremy Greene.

“I’m thrilled to join Mojiit as an advisor,” said Wozniak. “Jeremy is a natural leader, the company is groundbreaking, it’s going to change the ecommerce space, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Created in 2017, Mojiit is the latest startup technology venture from Greene. The company’s tech essentially enables users to project and share 3D hologram emojis via smartphones.

The platform turns users into emojis by scanning their face, which can then be sent to loved ones and friends. Once a Mojiit message is received, it will map the area where it is received and place the Mojiit hologram there in real time, so it works in a similar way to Pokemon Go.

“Steve is one of the best and brilliant engineers in the entire world. But outside of that, he’s a wonderful man,” said Greene. “There isn’t anyone I’d want to be in business with more than this guy. He’s a legend. Who better to learn from than the guy who created the computer?”

Image courtesy of Nichollas Harrison. Featured image courtesy of Mojiit

In addition to consumer use, businesses of all kinds can tap into hologram emojis with Mojiit’s technology.

Mojiit investors already  include NFL alum Ed Reed, and the company was able to raise a total of $1 million in its seed round of funding.

Alongside the appointment of Woz, Entourage and Ballers producer Rob Weiss recently joined the company as a creative director.

“It’s exciting to expand beyond television and film to digital platforms,” said Weiss. “Hologram technology brings incredible opportunity to entertainment and media. I’m thrilled to be leading creative at Mojiit.”

Nanoengineers send antibiotic-delivering micromotors into the body to treat cancer-causing infection

Nanoengineers have demonstrated for the first time how “micromotors” that measure half the width of a human hair can be used to transport antibiotics through the body.

Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego tested the micromotors in mice with Helicobacter pylori infections, which can also be found in about two-thirds of the world’s population and while many people will never notice any signs of its presence it can cause peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.

The mice received the micromotors – packed with a clinical dose of the antibiotic clarithromycin – orally once a day for five consecutive days.

Afterwards, nanoengineers evaluated the bacterial count in each mouse stomach and found that treatment with the micromotors was slightly more effective than when the same dose of antibiotic was given in combination with proton pump inhibitors, which also suppress gastric acid production.

Micromotors administered to the mice swam rapidly throughout the stomach while neutralising gastric acid, which can be destructive to orally administered drugs such as antibiotics and protein-based pharmaceuticals.

Because gastric acid is so destructive to traditional antibiotics drugs used to treat bacterial infections, ulcers and other diseases in the stomach are normally taken with additional substances, called proton pump inhibitors.

But when taken over longer periods or in high doses, proton pump inhibitors can cause adverse side effects including headaches, diarrhea and fatigue. In more serious cases, they can cause anxiety or depression.

The micromotors, however, have a built-in mechanism that neutralises gastric acid and effectively deliver their drug payloads in the stomach without requiring the use of proton pump inhibitors.

“It’s a one-step treatment with these micromotors, combining acid neutralisation with therapeutic action,” said Berta Esteban-Fernández de Ávila, a postdoctoral scholar in Wang’s research group at UC San Diego and a co-first author of the paper.

The nanoengineers say that while the present results are promising, this work is still at an early stage.

To test their work, the team is planning future studies to into the therapeutic performance of the micromotors in animals and humans, and will compare it with other standard therapies used to combat stomach diseases.

UC San Diego nanoengineers also plan to test different drug combinations with the micromotors to treat multiple diseases in the stomach or in different sections of the gastrointestinal tract.

Overall, the researchers say that this work opens the door to the use of synthetic motors as active delivery platforms in the treatment of diseases.

Image and video courtesy of the Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics at UC San Diego.