correspondentA bit of a tribute to three people who have persisted in the face of scepticism.

How long has Doug Lenat has been working on the CYC project? I described it unkindly as a kind of dinosaur in 2005, when it was already more than twenty years old. What is it about? AI systems often lack the complex background of understanding needed to deal with real life situations. One strategy, back in the day, was to tackle the problem head-on and simply build a gigantic encyclopaedia of background facts. Once you had that, rules of inference would do the rest. That seems an impossibly optimistic and old-fashioned strategy now, but CYC has apparently been working away on its encyclopaedia ever since and – it’s said – is actually beginning to deliver.

Also in 2005 I described the remarkable findings of Maurits Van Den Noort apparently showing a reaction to stimuli before the stimuli actually occurred. (That post is one of the “lost” ones from when I moved over to WordPress. I’ve just brought it back, but alas the lively discussion in comments is gone.) I’ve heard no more about the research since, but Van Den Noort is still urging the case for a new relationship between neurophysics and quantum physics.

That post mentions Huping Hu, who with his long-time colleague (and wife) Maoxin Wu, also announced some remarkable findings relating consciousness and quantum physics. He went on to found his own journal – one way to ensure your papers are properly published – which continues to publish to this day.

We may feel (I do) that these people are in differing ways on the wrong track, but their persistence surely commands respect.


  1. 1. Michael Murden says:

    Regarding Doug Lenat, how does a human child acquire its “gigantic encyclopedia of background facts?” How does the child apply this encyclopedia to its experience of the world? I don’t know of any reason to believe that machines can or should learn the way humans learn, but I would assume Doug has a theory about how humans learn and how humans apply knowledge to the business of living. I would like to know what his theory is and how he went about constructing a theory about how machines should learn and how machines should apply knowledge to the business of living.

  2. 2. Lloyd Rice says:

    From a background in linguistics, I can say that a semantic structure is a structure that allows you to store and retrieve facts — and relationships among facts. I don’t think it makes a lot of difference how the semantic system really works. The linguistic community has proposed hundreds of mechanisms over the years. Some are fairly good, some not so much. But no machine yet has had a sufficiently elaborate semantic structure to even begin to represent what one human knows about the world. And yet, such machines know even more than humans in their own areas of expertise. Personally, I believe that neural-net-type systems can do the job, but they have a way to go.

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