World Knowledge

The world’s greatest computer program mostly just exercises common sense. Suppose Smith has a personal website. Nowhere on the site does he say where he works, but at one point he makes a mention of “my colleague Jones” and Jones has a personal website where he says that he works for company X. From this you can conclude that it is likely Smith also works for company X. The world’s greatest computer program does not employ different rules of inference than the rest of us, it merely applies the familiar ones day and night millions of times a second tirelessly.

When you go to work for the team that built the world’s greatest computer program you’re not sure whether to be impressed or disappointed by how mundane each individual component is. The hardware it runs on is just a bunch of standard machines like any medium-sized company might own. The software for searching web pages, parsing text, and indexing facts and images is all familiar to practitioners in the field. Yet somehow the world’s greatest computer program puts these pieces together in a way that allows it to take part in human interaction on a par with any human. So it is a heady feeling on your first day when you are left to explore the system on your own. There, in the root directory of the world’s greatest computer program’s file system is a huge file called world-knowledge. This is it: the crown jewels. A compendium of truth about the world distilled into to some form smaller than the world itself.

What would this file contain? Would it be a mass of predicate logic statements that spell out the skeleton of possibility, necessity, and contradiction that undergirds reality? Would it be a list of numerical vectors that exhaustively describe the probabilities of any event co-occurring with any other event? You feel a tingle of nervousness along your scalp as you open world-knowledge to view it. To your surprise, it is a plain text file, and the first line of it begins like so:

Suppose Smith has a personal website. Nowhere on the site does he say where he works, but at one point he makes a mention of “my colleague Jones” and Jones…

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