Teaching Computers About Everyday Life (1999 – Present)
Computers can be both amazingly capable and disappointingly limited. A computer can orchestrate thousands of planes in the sky at one time, but cannot answer the question, “Is this chip edible?” Humans as they live in the world come to know the difference between a wood chip, a paint chip, a potato chip, a poker chip, etc. Imagine if your silenced cell-phone would “awaken” to alert you during a movie if a relative were to call from the hospital, but remain silent and not disturb you if a friend called rowdy from the pub. Imagine if when you told a computer a story about your life, the computer knew a similar story, one that resonated with your life and used that similar story to help you put your personal issues into perspective, and perhaps help resolve them.
I was one of the founders of the Commonsense Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab. We collaborated to build a new breed of software with enough ”commonsense” to reason nuances of ordinary human life. We developed open source tools using unconventional approaches to representing, acquiring, and reasoning with large quantities of commonsense propositions, expressed in simple English, collected from the public via the Web. I continue to develop these tools for use in design research and innovative product development.