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Common Sense on a Chip

By Fenella SaundersJanuary 1, 2001 6:00 AM


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"In America alone, I estimate 10 trillion mouse clicks have been wasted on computer solitaire," says David G. Stork, chief scientist of Ricoh Silicon Valley in California. He's launching the Open Mind Initiative to inspire computer addicts to contribute to a higher calling: developing a computer that can reason.

Today's computers are morons when it comes to understanding the real world. "For example, you know most animals move faster when they go forward than when they go backward. You would never even think to say it, but no computer knows it," says Stork's collaborator, Push Singh of MIT's Media Lab. A smart computer would need to incorporate key details people implicitly understand in their daily lives. To ease the task of collecting so much information, Singh has created a Web site called Open Mind Commonsense ( and turned to the community of Internet users. He invites visitors to participate in sentence-completion puzzles or describe simple pictures. Each response gets logged into a growing pool of knowledge. Singh's goal is to create a system that can reason as well as a 7-year-old. Long before then, he expects to use Commonsense to make a smarter Web search engine.

Stork plans other sites that encourage visitors to teach a computer to recognize speech or handwriting, and not just for fun. "It's fascinating to watch children figure things out," he says. "People will watch Open Mind get smart and want to contribute to see it become the best in the world."

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