Twelve years ago artificial-intelligence pioneer Doug Lenat predicted that virtually all software in the 21st century would incorporate common sense about the world. At the time, Lenat was six years into a project called Cyc (derived from the word "encyclopedia") that was intended to fulfill his predictions. Now, after spending $50 million and with the 21st century upon us, Lenat has begun to roll out the first and still the only software that purports to be a database that can understand language by employing common sense.
It would have taken a single programmer 500 years to incorporate the almost 1.5 million facts about the everyday world that are in Cyc's database. Still, Cyc is clearly not HAL, the cybernetic protagonist of the Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke masterwork whose namesake year has come and gone with computers eliciting not invigorating repartee but muffled cursing from their users at the obtuseness of their behavior.
This article was originally published with the title The World in a Box.