While today’s machine learning systems are more advanced than ever, says the agency, a critical component of artificial intelligence (AI) remains just out of reach – machine common sense. The agency defines “common sense” as essential background knowledge that offers “the basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things that are shared by nearly all people and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without need for debate.”

Such an ability, says the agency, could significantly advance the symbiotic partnership between humans and machines, but encoding it is “no easy feat.”

“The absence of common sense prevents an intelligent system from understanding its world, communicating naturally with people, behaving reasonably in unforeseen situations, and learning from new experiences,” says Dave Gunning, a program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O). “This absence is perhaps the most significant barrier between the narrowly focused AI applications we have today and the more general AI applications we would like to create in the future.”

While efforts to instill common sense in machines are not new, none have yet succeeded in achieving a widely applicable common sense capability. However, says the agency, significant progress in AI along a number of dimensions has made it possible to address this difficult challenge today.

The newly created Machine Common Sense (MCS) program is designed to develop just such new capabilities by soliciting research proposals in the area of machine common sense to enable AI applications “to understand new situations, monitor the reasonableness of their actions, communicate more effectively with people, and transfer learning to new domains.” The program will explore recent advances in cognitive understanding, natural language processing, deep learning, and other areas of AI research to find answers to the common sense problem.

The program will pursue two approaches for developing and evaluating different machine common sense services:

  • Create computational models that learn from experience and mimic the core domains of cognition as defined by developmental psychology
  • Construct a common sense knowledge repository capable of answering natural language and image-based queries about common sense phenomena by reading from the Web.

The first approach will include the domains of objects (intuitive physics), places (spatial navigation), and agents (intentional actors). Researchers will seek to develop systems that think and learn as humans do in the very early stages of development, leveraging advances in the field of cognitive development to provide empirical and theoretical guidance.

“During the first few years of life, humans acquire the fundamental building blocks of intelligence and common sense,” says Gunning. “Developmental psychologists have found ways to map these cognitive capabilities across the developmental stages of a human’s early life, providing researchers with a set of targets and a strategy to mimic for developing a new foundation for machine common sense.”

To assess the progress and success of the first strategy’s computational models, researchers will explore developmental psychology research studies and literature to create evaluation criteria. DARPA will use the resulting set of cognitive development milestones to determine how well the models are able to learn against three levels of performance – prediction/expectation, experience learning, and problem solving.

The second MCS approach – constructing a common sense knowledge repository – is expected to be achieved by using a combination of manual construction, information extraction, machine learning, crowdsourcing techniques, and other computational approaches. The resulting capability will be measured against the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) Common Sense benchmark tests, which are constructed through an extensive crowdsourcing process to represent and measure the broad commonsense knowledge of an average adult.

Research is scheduled to begin June 2019 and last for about four years. Proposals are due Dec. 18. For more, see “Machine Common Sense (MCS) Program” (PDF).


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