How it started

  • August, 1996

    You cannot achieve the impossible without attempting the absurd.

    This project is called "huey" which is a rough agglomeration of the words "human" and "ynterface." The goal is to make a program that can understand language, maintain context, remember, and answer questions. A lot of work has been done on natural language and cognition by a lot of very talented people; I am trying to be realistic about my expectations for the project. At the same time, I have been thinking about the problem on and off since 1980, when I took a natural language processing course at the University of Connecticut.

    My approach is brute force. I am going to go over every corner of the colloquial language, identifying relationships between words and ideas. The machine can compile these into conceptual "families" or topological "neighborhoods"--places where like ideas reside. Together, these relationships will provide a platform for "basic knowledge"--the kinds of understandings that everyone has about the world about them.

    New information, taken as natural language, will be compiled into strings of idea "family" identitifiers. A given utterance may be parse any of N ways. Each possibility will be matched against the collection of "basic knowledge," and against the current context to find a best match. As time goes on, the machine may learn more about its surroundings from its conversations with others.

    A lot has to go right, frankly. I have dismissed the problem of attempting to make the machine really "know" anything. I believe it is possible to almost know something by knowing things about it.

    Anyway, the result should be a lot of data structures and code. Wish me luck.

    -Kevin Dowd

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