Wise Up, Dumb Machine

By Mitchell Leslie

Be honest: how many times in the last week did you want to slap your mulish computer upside the monitor? Before you resort to violence, consider why our relationship with these supposedly smart machines is fraught with frustration, miscommunication and disappointment.

The problem is easy to diagnose, says computer scientist Douglas Lenat, PhD ’76, who heads Cycorp in Austin, Texas. Though they are crammed with data, computers understand less about the world than a 10-year-old child does. They don’t know that you’ll get wet if you go out in the rain, that parents are older than their children, or that Cal can’t win Big Game. They’re flummoxed by plain English and stumble over anomalous data.

To become smarter, the former Stanford professor argues, computers don’t need faster chips or bigger memories. They need an infusion of common sense—all those ordinary facts and assumptions about the world that enable people to survive and communicate with each other. Eighteen years ago, Lenat left academia for the private sector, gambling that he could teach this fundamental knowledge to computers.

Continue reading at Stanford Magazine.

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