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Watson's Creator Wants to Teach AI a New Trick: Common Sense

By Wired

May 28, 2020

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David Ferrucci, the man who built IBM's Jeopardy!-playing machine, Watson, is explaining a children's story to his new creation.

In the tale, Fernando and Zoey buy some plants. Fernando places his plant on a windowsill, while Zoey tucks hers away in a darkened room. After a few days, Fernando's plant is green and healthy, but the leaves of Zoey's have browned. She moves her plant to the windowsill and it flourishes.

A question appears on the screen in front of Ferrucci: "Does it make sense that Fernando put his plant in the window because he wants it to be healthy? The sunny window has light and the plant needs to be healthy."

The question is part of an effort by Ferrucci's artificial intelligence system to learn how the world works. It might be obvious to you or me why Fernando put his plant in the window. But it is surprisingly difficult for an AI system to grasp.

Ferrucci and his company, Elemental Cognition, hope to fix a huge blind spot in modern AI by teaching machines to acquire and apply everyday knowledge that lets humans communicate, reason, and navigate our surroundings. We use common-sense reasoning so often, and so easily, that we barely notice it.


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