[PlanetKR] Douglas B. Lenat

Esra Erdem esra.erdem at sabanciuniv.edu
Wed Sep 6 08:59:21 UTC 2023

Dear colleagues,

I am very sorry to share with you the sad news that Douglas B. Lena
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Lenat>t, one of the pioneers in AI
and KR, founder of the Cyc project and Cycorp, passed away last Thursday
(August 31, 2023) in Austin, Texas.

*How many people have in their lives a 2-10% chance of dramatically
affecting the way the world works? When one of those chances comes along,
you should take it. --- Douglas B. Lenat  [1]*

Dr. Lenat was a Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie-Mellon University
and Stanford University. He was awarded the biennial IJCAI Computers and
Thought Award. He was the first Fellow of the Association for the
Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), and a Fellow of the American
Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Cognitive Science
Society. He was the only person to have served on the scientific advisory
boards of both Microsoft and Apple.

Here are some excerpts from the recent New York Times article

*At the University of Pennsylvania, he completed three degrees in four
years — bachelor’s degrees in math and physics and a master’s in applied
mathematics — before moving to the West Coast for his doctorate. He
enrolled at Stanford to study artificial intelligence. His thesis committee
included three of the researchers who had founded the field in the late

*In the late 1970s, as a professor of computer science at Stanford
University, Dr. Lenat developed an A.I. system he called Eurisko
<https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/eurisko> — a Greek word meaning “I
discover.” It was designed to automate the discovery of new scientific
concepts, methods and laws by analyzing data. Running across dozens of
computers, Eurisko could discover possibilities that Dr. Lenat — and other
humans — had not. But it needed help from human judgment. Machines could
not be truly intelligent, he realized, unless they, too, had common sense.*

*The experience inspired a new project that would consume him for the next
four decades. The project was called Cyc. He set out to define the
fundamental but largely unspoken laws that outline how the world works,
including everything from “you can’t be in two places at the same time” to
“when drinking a cup of coffee, you hold the open end up.” He knew it could
take decades — perhaps centuries — to complete the project. But he was
determined to try. **He and his collaborators wound up spending more than
2,000 human years on the project, writing more than 25 million rules.*

*In the fall, as ChatGPT captured the public imagination, Dr. Lenat and the
cognitive scientist Gary Marcus began a new paper meant to show the new
generation of researchers what they could learn from his nearly 40 years of
work on Cyc. ** A shortened version
<https://arxiv.org/pdf/2308.04445.pdf> was published a month before he
died. “He took on the project that no one else had the guts to take on,”
Dr. Marcus said <https://garymarcus.substack.com/p/doug-lenat-1950-2023>.
“He never completely succeeded. But he showed us at least part of the way.”*

The recent articles [2,3,4] by Dr. Lenat describe the role of CyC in KR and
AI, with historical remarks and future possibilities.

With our deepest condolences to Dr. Lenat's family, colleagues, and friends.

Kind regards,

[1] Out of their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer
Scientists. Dennis Shasha and Cathy Lazere .
[2] Knowledge graphs: Introduction, history, and perspectives. Vinay K.
Chaudhri, Chaitanya Baru, Naren Chittar, Xin Luna Dong, Michael Genesereth,
James Hendler, Aditya Kalyanpur, Douglas B. Lenat, Juan Sequeda, Denny
Vrandečić, Kuansan Wang. https://doi.org/10.1002/aaai.12033
[3] Creating a 30-Million-Rule System: MCC and Cycorp. Douglas B. Lenat.
[4] Getting from Generative AI to Trustworthy AI: What LLMs might learn
from Cyc. Doug Lenat, Gary Marcus. https://arxiv.org/abs/2308.04445
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