Since 1984 a company called Cycorp has been quietly working on artificial intelligence. Now, as it nears real intelligence, its creators are beginning to talk about Cyc. Cyc is a machine intelligence that learns, and has been doing so for the last 30 years.
Cyc is, essentially, a software brain which is being built and grown. The result is a smart computer that can read between the lines to understand what a person is saying beyond words alone.
For example a person who says "John Smith robbed First National Bank and was sentenced to 30 years in prison," is obviously inferring that John Smith was arrested, charged and was found guilty on trial – but none of that needs to be said. A human would understand this but a machine would not. Like a human Cyc would read between the lines and have this kind of deeper understanding of a sentence.
Doug Lenat, president and CEO of Cycorp, says: "If computers were human they'd present themselves as autistic, schizophrenic, or otherwise brittle. It would be unwise or dangerous for that person to take care of children and cook meals, but it's on the horizon for home robots. That's like saying, 'We have an important job to do, but we're going to hire dogs and cats to do it.'"
Cyc isn't finished yet but is already being used to teach children maths in school. So it may not be long before the likes of Siri and Google Now suddenly seem a whole lot smarter. HAL, the artificial intelligence predicated by 2001: A Space Odyssey, may not be as far off as we'd thought.