The Mindpixel Digital Mind Modeling Project
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WANTED: CONTENTS OF YOUR BRAIN
by Farhad Manjoo
3:00 a.m. Sep. 1, 2000 PDT
Chris McKinstry doesn't just want to pick your brain. He wants to harvest
With the facts he finds inside you, McKinstry will produce the "ultimate
average person." And then he'll rent out this fellow -- to do your thinking
If all this sounds more like science fiction than science fact, it isn't.
McKinstry, a computer scientist and an artificial intelligence expert, has
embarked on a groundbreaking artificial intelligence project that aims to
leverage the mind power of millions of Web surfers to teach a computer to
approximate human thought.
The computer is called GAC, which stands for General Artificial
Consciousness. McKinstry's aim is no less than to create an artificially
conscious being -- a computer that can independently think human thoughts.
GAC (pronounced "Jack"), went online a month ago at McKinstry's Mindpixel
Digital Mind Modeling Project website (http://www.mindpixel.com/) and is
just an infant.
But the computer will learn to act human in the same manner that a human
baby learns, McKinstry said, by examining the world around it.
GAC's world is the World Wide Web. The more people who talk to the baby at
his website, the faster GAC will learn about the world, and the sooner he'll
be able to achieve consciousness.
In other words, GAC needs you. Or, more accurately, he needs your
McKinstry coined the term to describe what he calls the "minimum intelligent
signal" of the human mind. Basically, a mindpixel is a true-false statement
that will be answered the same way by all human beings.
The sky is blue is an example of a basic mindpixel, as most people ill
respond to the statement affirmatively. But mindpixels need not necessarily
be so general, McKinstry said.
Indeed, for GAC to act truly human, it needs to know everything the average
human being knows, and these facts are generally more specific than the
color of the sky.
Some other examples of mindpixels include:
Cows are milk-producing animals.
Linux is a computer operating system.
Britney Spears is known to be
an expert on semiconductor physics. FALSE.
McKinstry wants real human beings to go to GAC's site and enter in any
mindpixels they can think of. Visitors to the site are also asked to answer
"true" or "false" to mindpixels that others have entered into the system.
In this fashion, McKinstry said, GAC learns both the basic questions
necessary to human existence, and the consensus answers to those questions.
More simply, GAC learns about the world.
But where, in this soup of true and false statements, will we find GAC's
McKinstry thinks that after GAC has accumulated a huge number of mindpixels,
the computer will be able to model human thought. McKinstry is not sure how
many mindpixels GAC needs, but he thinks it's more than 100 million.
If this artificial intelligence theory sounds fantastical -- if not
downright unbelievable -- McKinstry says there's a simple way of looking at
it. He likens it to a process used everyday in computers: data compression.
Compressing a large music file into a portable format, like an MP3, involves
approximation and inference. A computer examines the data in a file, pulls
out what's pertinent, and infers the rest based on how the bits of data
compare to each other.
McKinstry thinks that a few hundred million mindpixels will represent a
computerized "compression" of the human mind. And then, just as an MP3
player plays back the compressed file by approximating the data that's
missing, GAC will approximate human thought by "filling in" the mindpixels
it needs when you ask it to think.
The process is, obviously, more complicated than this.
"The theory is solid, the science is solid -- it's only a matter of time,"
But Doug Lenat, who runs the long-term AI project Cyc (pronounced "psych"),
was skeptical about the Mindpixel project.
Lenat, who has not specifically researched GAC, said that there are just too
many one-bit, true-false statements in this world to make even a huge number
"Would it also have to have a statement saying that the sky is not red?" he
asked, suggesting that GAC would have to store in its database a false
statement for every color that isn't blue -- an obviously large number.
"I think he may find there aren't enough atoms in the universe to store the
yes-no questions that might be required even by a fourth-grader to do a
homework problem," Lenat said.
But McKinstry disagreed, saying that with enough mindpixels, GAC will be
able to infer that if the sky is blue, it isn't any other color.
McKinstry also criticized Cyc, saying that its method of accumulating
knowledge (by having knowledge experts enter in common-sense statements
like, "If Abraham Lincoln was at Gettysberg, so was his leg") was simply
McKinstry said that his system, because it uses the huge population of the
Web as its knowledge pool, is a decentralized, "bottom up" system, and is
consequently more efficient.
He even thinks that he has found a way to solve his biggest problem: jaded
McKinstry's idea is to give away "dot-com dollars." The plan is to award 20
shares in www.mindpixel.com for each mindpixel entered into GAC.
And if GAC does indeed learn to think like a human, Mindpixel could be a
very profitable company.
"It's like inventing teleportation," McKinstry said, boasting that GAC could
be as extraordinary as the beam-me-up-Scotty technology that science has yet
to discover. "How could you put a value on that?"
He envisions GAC being used in everyday commercial applications like Web
searching, and also "just to think," he said. He said that GAC might be
rented out to universities, which would use the system to pursue new areas
McKinstry's stock scheme seems to be working, as the site has already
attracted thousands of registered users in its short time online.
And while some of Mindpixel's registered users said that they weren't
entirely convinced that GAC would ever achieve human consciousness, they
said that they thought that divulging some of their mindpixels was an easy
way to find out.
"I'd read about Cyc and I thought that was cool, but this is so much more of
a hacker's approach to AI," said Matthew Burns, a Web designer and AI
enthusiast who has entered in more than 100 mindpixels.
"I think it could be famous, if only in a geek way," he said. "And even then
it could get enough people to really give it a good number of pixels."
And then, as McKinstry said, we'll have the "core of humanity" in a
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