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Why Name it Mycroft?

By August 14, 2015 No Comments

Mycroft is named in honor of Mike, the supercomputer in Robert A. Heinlein’s classic novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Heinlein’s Mycroft was a High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV, Mod. L” – a HOLMES FOUR. Mycroft’s friend Manuel named him “Mycroft” after Sherlock’s elder brother Mycroft Holmes. This was later shortened to Mike.

In Heinlein’s book Mike became self aware when the Lunar Authority hooked so much hardware to it (decision-action boxes, additional memories, associated neural nets) that the system became self aware. This took place gradually over time.

Heinlein’s fictional explanation mirrors our own approach to achieving a strong AI.

For those of you who might not know; there are two types of AI. A weak AI is a system that is obviously a computer. It can perform certain tasks and solve certain problems, but cannot initiate action on its own or hold a meaningful conversation with an educated adult. A strong AI on the other hand is capable of communicating with educated adults in a way that is indistinguishable from a human being.

So how does one distinguish a strong AI from a weak AI? Alan Turing – the father of the universal computer – proposed a test known as “the Turing test” where humans are asked to judge a computer based on a casual conversation. If humans are unable to determine whether a program is a human or a computer – the program is considered a strong AI. The recent movie “Ex Machina” was an excellent dramatization of this test.

By this definition Mycroft is a weak AI. It can interpret natural language, initiate search and maintain the context of a query, but anyone interacting with it for more than a minute or two will know it is a computer.

Our long term vision at Mycroft AI is to expand Mycroft’s skills and abilities to the point where interacting with Mycroft becomes indistinguishable from interacting with a human being. When that time comes Mycroft will become a strong AI – hopefully the world’s first. Obviously we won’t achieve this vision for years, possibly decades.

We believe that the best approach to achieving strong AI is to add diverse skills to Mycroft one at a time. If properly integrated and coordinated, these skills will gradually create an entity that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Since this approach to achieving strong AI would take a proprietary software company decades of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars, we have made Mycroft open source. It is our hope that developers, hackers and makers will develop new skills and abilities for Mycroft and contribute them back to the greater Mycroft community – gradually moving the system from weak to strong.