The problem with chatbots is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). For years researchers have been promising to deliver technology that will make computers we can chat to like friends, robots that function as autonomous servants, and one day, for better or worse, even produce conscious machines. Yet we appear to be as far away as ever from any of these goals.
But that could soon change. In the next few months, after being patiently nurtured for 22 years, an artificial brain called Cyc (pronounced “psych”) will be put online for the world to interact with. And it’s only going to get cleverer. Opening Cyc up to the masses is expected to accelerate the rate at which it learns, giving it access to the combined knowledge of millions of people around the globe as it hoovers up new facts from web pages, webcams and data entered manually by anyone who wants to contribute.
Crucially, Cyc’s creator says it has developed a human trait no other AI system has managed to imitate: common sense. “I believe we are heading towards a singularity and we will see it in less than 10 years,” says Doug Lenat of Cycorp, the system’s creator.
One small step for a bot, one giant leap for botkind. Let’s see how this one goes.