Artificial intelligence may be coming soon to an application near you. In a development that will send programmers and developers scurrying around searching for potential uses, Cycorp Inc. is planning to make a portion of its Cyc knowledge base, as well as an accompanying binary version of its inference engine, available as open-source technology later this year. That could mean the introduction in the near future of a modicum of artificial intelligence in everything from search engines to customer-relationship management applications.
The initial release of the OpenCyc knowledge base will offer a small subset of the Cyc ontology, which has been developed during the past 17 years, first by an industry consortium and subsequently as a project managed by Cycorp. OpenCyc product manager John De Oliveira says the work Cycorp is doing is focused on furthering development of Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the Semantic Web, a future incarnation of the Web in which content will be interpreted and manipulated by computers rather than simply read by humans. In other words, the Semantic Web will be more instinctual than the current version.
For its part, Cycorp essentially is attempting to transform computers from idiot savants into almost-sentient beings. And De Oliveira says the Cyc knowledge base--and its pending open-source subset--is crucial to making that happen. The knowledge base is filled with concepts we take for granted, things that infuse human decision-making with common sense. "It contains assertions about things I know you know, even though I don't know you," De Oliveira says. For instance, we all know that we can't carry our desks home in our pockets, but a computer doesn't. Cycorp is working to change that.
De Oliveira says Cycorp plans to release a beta version of the OpenCyc knowledge base later this month, with wide release scheduled by the end of the year. Users who install the OpenCyc knowledge base will have the freedom to develop proprietary applications, which is not the case with most open-source software. They will, however, have to share any general knowledge they add to the database. De Oliveira says that, over time, Cycorp will release the bulk of the Cyc knowledge base, but it will always keep the most recent additions under wraps so it can develop some proprietary technologies of its own.