`Cassie' Has Her Thinking Cap On

Last month, scientists gathered at the State University of New York at Buffalo to think about thinking--real and artificial. Many were startled by the logical flights of Cassie, an artificial intelligence program developed at Buffalo. Most AI programs have no more smarts than a bird brain. Cassie is like a growing child, using English to describe thoughts.

Cassie's creators, computer scientists Stuart C. Shapiro and William J. Rapaport, hope "she" will be able to digest reams of information and answer questions. In some cases, that may mean unlearning her programming. For example, while perusing the King Arthur legend, she stumbled on the word "smite." She was told it means to kill by hitting hard. Later, she read that King Arthur got smote back in a fight and didn't die. So she deduced the word's real meaning: "to hit very hard." Ultimately, Rapaport believes AI systems will develop a kind of consciousness. Cassie hasn't yet, he concedes, "but there's no reason why she couldn't."

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