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” .


Make it fantastic: The graphene alternative using plastic to crack mass production

Graphene, the one atom thick carbon-based material, is being hailed as the wonder product of future electronics.

It has impressive conductivity, is highly flexible and durable and has potential uses in everything from electronics and solar panels to body armour and medicine.

But graphene has a serious flaw that could hamper its use: it is a nightmare to mass produce.

However, scientists in Korea may have cracked the problem by creating a material with near identical properties, and which they say is as effective as graphene.

Manufactured as carbon nanosheets, it is created using a large-scale technique using a polymer that can be easily scaled up to full mass production.

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Conventional graphene was initially developed in small quantities, meaning scientists have had to develop new production methods to make it a viable consumer material.

The most common of these is chemical vapour deposition, or CVD, which involves making the graphene on a board of metal film. This metal film is important because it serves as a catalyst, speeding up the manufacturing process.

However once this is done and the graphene is created, the work really starts. The metal needs to be removed and the graphene has to be moved to another board.

But this process is very tricky, and can easily damage the graphene by causing cracks or wrinkles in it. Add the fact that the whole approach has a whopping eight steps, and you’re a long way from a method that suits large-scale mass production.

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However, this new approach requires only two steps: coating the board the graphene is manufactured on with a special polymer solution and heating, a process that results in a transparent carbon nanosheet with strong conductive properties.

To work effectively the process is highly specific; requiring a light green polymer known at PIM-1, which has a rigid, ladder-like structure, and heating to 1,200°C (2,190°F).

Despite this, the process is a dramatic improvement on graphene’s CVD method as it misses out the steps where errors or damage to the material can creep in.

The process could be the key to the lightweight, transparent electronics many have been hoping for, and could help create windows with hidden solar panels in them. The resulting board can even be used as a solar cell without additional treatment.

The scientists responsible for its design are very positive about the technology’s potential for quick mass-production.

Dr Han Ik Joh at Korea Institute of Science and Technology said: “It is expected to be applied for commercialisation of transparent and conductive 2D carbon materials without difficulty, since this process is based on the continuous and mass-produced process of carbon fibre.”