THE BRAIN BEHIND CYC
By Sidney Moody
Scientist Doug Lenat Discusses Artificial Intelligence
At first glance, Cycorp CEO Doug Lenat might be mistaken for a late-Nineties version of a J.R.R Tolkien character. A sort of Bilbo Baggins dressed in black with dark bushy hair, a black, short-sleeved shirt with buttoned front pockets, black jeans, black running shoes, and — most conspicuously for a CEO — no wristwatch.
But as a man who has devoted over two decades of his life to the field of artificial intelligence (AI), Lenat is far more complex — a very intense and driven scientist, a practical visionary with Big Plans, plans that might ultimately affect just about anyone who interacts with computers in the course of their mundane existence — which means, of course, just about everyone. Lenat earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 1976, but he credits his move into the field of AI to a pivotal conversation with Bobby Ray Inman in the Eighties during the genesis of the local consortium Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. (MCC). Lenat likens the conversation to a scene in Network, in which the corporate mogul (played by Ned Beatty) corners talking-head Peter Finch and explains in a rather cynical fashion how the real world works. The discussion served as the catalyst for Lenat’s 1984 exit from the academic cocoon of Stanford University to the Austin-based operation (initially incubated by MCC) that eventually became known as Cycorp.
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