21st Century Glasnost and Perestroika
While I was in college in the mid-Eighties, there was a buzz in the air about Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika. Those were times filled with anticipation of changing relationships, although few truly knew how much change was coming.
Changes at Cycorp over the last few years remind me of those times. The iron curtain on Cyc is coming down with the release of the full Cyc ontology into open source (glasnost), and there is an opportunity for the Cyc ontology, developed over 20 years, to contribute to the restructuring of the Web (perestroika) that is taking place.
This new glasnost extends beyond the release of an ontology that can be used and extended by all. The entire Cyc system is now available for free for research purposes; and, although inference engine source code is not included, there are over 18,000 functions and macros available for the research community to work with, including those that support natural language parsing and generation. As with Gorbachev, the glasnost is the result of a changing attitude toward working with the outside world.
Cycorp's "Reykjavik Summit" occurred in 2001, when DARPA invited many of the leading minds of ontology and artificial intelligence to Austin for a summit. It was essentially Cyc's coming out party -- a time for Cycorp to say, "We know we've been keeping mostly to ourselves. We're ready to share, and we'd like to know what you think about what we've been working on." Present were Marvin Minsky, Ed Feigenbaum, Ron Brachman (meeting organizer), George Miller, Bill Woods, Deborah McGuinness, Hector LeVesque, Scott Fahlman, Danny Bobrow, John Sowa, Fritz Lehmann and more. John McCarthy added his two cents in a separate visit. McCarthy published the paper Programs with Common Sense back in 1959, in which he asserted, "In order for a program to be capable of learning something it must first be capable of being told it."
By the end, even those expected to be the biggest critics agreed that they would like to get their hands on as much of the Cyc technology as possible -- especially the knowledge base content. That was the beginning of the ResearchCyc project, and it was when the decision was made to have OpenCyc get all of the concept terms that were released in ResearchCyc.
So, that was glasnost. Perestroika is coming in the form of The Cyc Foundation, which has a goal of working cooperatively with as much of the "Web 2.0" community as bandwidth permits. For example, we're working on a web services interface for the Cyc API. We'll be linking Cyc concepts with Wikipedia concepts and, as a result, providing a new way to navigate Wikipedia. We hope to use Ruby on Rails on the interface that administers workflow (we call it "playflow", since it supports games) for the games that add knowledge to the Cyc knowledge base. And we'd like to work with the social tagging community to give them a way to use a shared tagset without giving up the ease of use and social networking that they are accustomed to. In all cases, we'll have to explore with the rest of the Web community how to capitalize on the advantages of our respective technologies.
The wall has been knocked down. I anticipate a time of even greater change, and I'm looking forward to the next several years!