DARPA-linked Cycorp "Predicted" the Anthrax Attacks - 6 months before they happened.

(Digg links to DemocraticUnderground version of this story. Fire away. -rep.)

From the Dept. of Say What?

Cyc-ing out the terrorists

Posted 3/30/03

Only sheer brilliance or a crystal ball could foretell the next terrorist attack, right? Nope, says the inventor of a computer program that predicted anthrax might be sent through the mail six months before it happened. Cyc (as in encyclopedia), a project that is now part of the Pentagon's research on sniffing out terrorist plots, comes up with scenarios that could help focus screening efforts. It works by applying common sense to an extensive knowledge of terrorism. "It's not like beating Kasparov at chess," says creator Doug Lenat, head of the Austin-based firm Cycorp. He compares it to "a person with average intelligence but a vast amount of time and patience."

Cyc's roots go back to 1983, when Lenat concluded that efforts to create computer intelligence had hit a wall. "Robots lacked the common sense of humans," he says. So he began feeding Cyc concepts like the difference between turkey the meat or bird and Turkey, the country. The database now holds almost 2 million such simple truths.

Under a $9.8 million grant from the Defense Department's Information Awareness Office, Cyc has acquired a trove of knowledge about past terrorist activities, tactics, and weapons. But it is still a work in progress. Once, developing a scenario for a terrorist attack on Hoover Dam, it hypothesized a school of 1,000 al Qaeda- trained dolphins bearing explosives. Another time, Cyc, which can learn by asking questions, inquired: "Am I human?" It's reassuring to know it still needs our help. -Dana Hawkins

This story appears in the April 7, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.

Continued below the fold...