io9 has an excerpt from a longer article at Universe that describes an artificial intelligence program that is reading the web in order to learn language. The very idea sounds like it was taken from a science fiction novel.
If you doubt me [that science fiction is reality], read the news. Read, for example, this recent article in the New York Times about Carnegie Mellon’s “Read the Web” program, in which a computer system called NELL (Never Ending Language Learner) is systematically reading the internet and analyzing sentences for semantic categories and facts, essentially teaching itself idiomatic English as well as educating itself in human affairs. Paging Vernor Vinge, right?
What the author, Claire Evans, goes on to describe sounds like a pretty straight forward web crawler whose frontier is hooked into a system that is anything but typical. Evans spoke with several of the researchers behind NELL and the interview portion of the article is well worth the read.
For instance, part of the eventual goal is for the program to become much more self directed in its learning. It already supplements the half million pages curated and provided to it with targeted web searches. Evans didn’t ask whether the end result, the knowledge NELL acquires would be useful for other AI projects. A generalized, portable body of knowledge, parsed and ready to go is a key holy grail in this field of research.