A massive AI project called CALO could revolutionize machine learning.
By Erica Naone
The thing that makes computers a huge pain for everybody, says Pedro Domingos, an associate
professor of computer science at the University of Washington, is that you have to explain to them
every little detail of what they need to do. "It's really annoying," Domingos jokes. "They're stupid."
That's why Domingos is taking part in CALO, a massive, four-year-old artificial-intelligence project to
help computers understand the intentions of their human users. Funded by the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and coordinated by SRI International, based in Menlo Park, CA,
the project brings together researchers from 25 universities and corporations, in many areas of
artificial intelligence, including machine learning, natural-language processing, and Semantic Web
technologies. Each group works on pieces of CALO, which stands for "cognitive assistant that learns
Adam Cheyer, program director of the artificial-intelligence center at SRI, explains that CALO tries to
assist users in three ways: by helping them manage information about key people and projects, by
understanding and organizing information from meetings, and by learning and automating routine
tasks. For example, CALO can learn about the people and projects that are important to a user's
work life by paying attention to e-mail patterns. It can then categorize and prioritize information for
the user, based on the source of the information and the projects to which it is connected. The
system can also apply this type of understanding to meetings, using its speech-recognition system
to make a transcription of what's said there, and its understanding of the user's projects and contacts
to process the transcription intelligently into to-do lists and appointments.