Paul Allen announced on February 28, 2018 that he is committing $125 million over three years to support the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) and to launch Project Alexandria, a new research initiative on common sense artificial intelligence (AI). (PRNewsfoto/Paul G. Allen)

AI2 Project to Merge Machine Learning, Language & Vision

Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, recently launched an initiative to give AI the common sense possessed by “a 10-year-old.”

Committing $125 million over three years to his Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), Allen is launching Project Alexandria to fund “common sense” AI, which involves “unstructured problem-solving,” as well as “managing unanticipated situations.” Kid-level stuff, in other words.

Dr. Oren Etzioni, AI2 CEO, said Project Alexandria will aggregate data from images and text via machine learning and crowd-sourced common sense statements to help improve AI applications.

“When I founded AI2, I wanted to expand the capabilities of artificial intelligence through high-impact research,” Allen said in a press release. “Early in AI research, there was a great deal of focus on common sense, but that work stalled. …We want to jump start that research to achieve major breakthroughs in the field.”

Calling it “an extremely complicated challenge,” Allen said that to advance AI for use in research, medicine and business, it needs the kind of abilities humans take for granted. The funding will continue AI2’s ongoing projects, while integrating knowledge. The data gathered via machine reading and reasoning (Project Aristo), natural language and understanding (Project Euclid) and computer vision (Project Plato), are expected “to create a new unified and extensive knowledge source.”

According to Etzioni, it remains the most difficult area to bridge for AI.

“No AI system currently deployed can reliably answer a broad range of simple questions such as: ‘If I put my socks in a drawer, will they still be in there tomorrow?’ or ‘How can you tell if a milk carton is full?’ For example, when AlphaGo beat the number one Go player in the world in 2016, the program did not know that Go is a board game.”

Gary Marcus, founder of Geometric Intelligence (acquired by Uber) and professor of psychology and neural science at NYU, said he was “hugely excited” about Project Alexandria.

“Common sense is the precondition for general intelligence; until we get there we will be stuck with narrow AI that is rarely robust and never as flexible as human reasoners,” Marcus said. “There’s only been one serious large-scale effort to endow machines with common sense, and it was launched over three decades ago. The time is right for a fresh approach to the problem.”

Project Alexandria is named after the ancient library in Alexandria, Egypt, the fabled repository of texts in the 3rd century BCE. For more information on AI2’s Project Alexandria, click on the link.