Researchers to Teach and Test ‘Common Sense’ for AI

Saturday, October 13, 2018 - 13:46

Researchers of DARPA, a central research and development organization for the US Department of Defense, in cooperation with the Seattle-based Allen Institute have taught and tested ‘common sense’ for artificial intelligence to see about changing that.

The Machine Common Sense program aims to both define the problem and engender progress on it, though no one is expecting this to be “solved” in a year or two. But if AI is to escape the prison of the hyper-specific niches where it works well, it’s going to need to grow a brain that does more than execute a classification task at great speed, Techcrunch reports.

“The absence of common sense prevents an intelligent system from understanding its world, communicating naturally with people, behaving reasonably in unforeseen situations, and learning from new experiences. This absence is perhaps the most significant barrier between the narrowly focused AI applications we have today and the more general AI applications we would like to create in the future,” explained DARPA’s Dave Gunning in a press release.

Not only is common sense lacking in AIs, but it’s remarkably difficult to define and test, given how broad the concept is. Common sense could be anything from understanding that solid objects can’t intersect to the idea that the kitchen is where people generally go when they’re thirsty. As obvious as those things are to any human more than a few months old, they’re actually quite sophisticated constructs involving multiple concepts and intuitive connections.

The common sense effort is part of DARPA’s big $2 billion investment in AI on multiple fronts. But they’re not looking to duplicate or compete with the likes of Google, Amazon and Baidu, which have invested heavily in the narrow AI applications we see on our phones and the like.

“They’re saying, what are the limitations of those systems? Where can we fund basic research that will be the basis of whole new industries?” Etzioni suggested. And of course it is DARPA and government investment that set the likes of self-driving cars and virtual assistants on their first steps. Why shouldn’t it be the same for common sense?

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