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About This Blog

This blog is a collection of notes and short essays by Scott E. Fahlman on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Knowledge Representation (KR), with particular emphasis on the Scone Knowledge-Base System.  The target audience is AI researchers and students, but I will try to make most of this material accessible to other readers with a knowledge of computing and a serious interest in AI.

“Knowledge Nuggets” is not a typical blog.   I don’t plan to us this as a journal, documenting my daily experiences, thoughts, and moods.  Nor is it my goal to report breaking news from the AI world or to provide a lot of pointers to interesting information that I have found on the web, though of course I will cite sources and related work where that is appropriate.  The goal here is to present some of my own analysis, observations, and ideas for future work, and some detailed information on Scone, all in the form of bite-sized “nuggets” — easy for me to write when I have a little bit of free time and, I hope, easy for readers to digest.  My students may also contribute nuggets from time to time.  If some of these ideas stimulate interesting online discussion, that’s a bonus.

I should make clear that these are my own personal views.  They are the product of over 40 years as an AI researcher, first as a student in the MIT AI Lab, and later as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University.   I have been influenced by many brilliant colleagues and students along the way, but I often find myself outside the mainstream of the AI field.  So those looking for a survey or tutorial on the AI approaches currently in vogue must look elsewhere.  The material presented here may serve as a complement to those more orthodox views — or perhaps an antidote.

Why a blog? The Scone knowledge-base system is now being tested and will soon be released as open-source software on the Internet.  A programmer-level manual will accompany the Scone release, but there also is a need for a book-length tutorial — one with lots of examples showing how to represent complex real-world knowledge in Scone and how to use Scone as a component in other applications.   Work on that book has only just begun, since almost all of my time has gone into completing the Scone system itself — and at the same time struggling to keep the Scone project funded.

Several friends and colleagues have suggested that I begin producing fragments of the tutorial, releasing each fragment as soon as it is ready, rather that waiting until the work is complete and consistent.  That seemed like a good idea.  My first thought was to produce these fragments as text files, accessed from a single public web page.  But other colleagues suggested that I organize this effort as a blog: that would make it easier for readers to navigate the material and to be informed when new items have appeared.   I was not very familiar with blog culture or technology, but the more I learned about tools such as WordPress, the more this path seemed like a good one, even if this is an atypical blog in many ways.

Upon further reflection, I realized that there are all sorts of other AI-related ideas rattling around in my head — ideas that have not made it into research papers because they are too small, too speculative, incomplete, or too unfashionable to make it past the referees.   It occurred to me that this blog could be a vehicle for these more general AI ideas as well as Scone-specific information.   So that’s the plan.

Some of these “nuggets” will eventually be collected into the tutorial book mentioned above.  Others may eventually be polished up, filled out, and published in the time-honored academic way.  But in the meantime I hope that this quick and dirty form of publication will be of value to some readers.

This informal and fragmented presentation has its advantages, but there are disadvantages as well.  The primary disadvantage, as I see it, is the lack of a coherent order or structure tying the individual posts together.  I hope that the fragments, taken together, will eventually add up to a Big Picture — a more or less coherent view of where AI is and where it should be heading — but this will be presented in a sort of Pointillist way.  To see the big picture, you may have to stand back and blur your eyes a bit.

A second disadvantage is that in writing one of these nuggets, I can’t assume that readers have read all of the others. So that means that there will be a certain amount of repetition. I hope that this won’t be too annoying.

I’ve thought about the question of whether to enable comments on this blog.  On the one hand, thoughtful responses and questions can add a lot to the value of this exercise; on the other hand, I don’t want the site to be cluttered up with blog-spam or comments like “Yo, dude, AI rocks!”   So, for now, I’ve set the software up to accept outside comments, but a comment will only be posted if I, as the moderator, explicitly approve it.  I plan to accept any comments that I think will be of interest to the readers; other stuff, including generic opinions (good or bad) about the blog itself, will be read by me but probably not posted.

This is a new adventure for me.   Until a few weeks ago, I was not even reading any blogs on a regular basis, let alone thinking about writing one.  But I think this should be fun, educational for me, probably useful for my students, and perhaps useful for others.

The “nuggets” metaphor may be a bit optimistic: I hope that there’s some gold here, but there will also be a lot of pyrite and probably a few coprolites mixed in.   Panning for the good stuff is half the fun.

– Scott Fahlman

Credits: Many thanks to my student Ben Lambert and the CMU CS facilities staff for setting up the various servers required for this blog, and to my colleague Peter Lee for encouragement and advice on the blogging world.  This site runs uses the WordPress engine.  The look and feel are based on the “Breaking News” theme by ShinRa House, though I have modified that theme rather extensively.   (It originally was designed to resemble a newspaper, but it needed some tweaking to meet the needs of this blog, which is more of an essay collection.)   For sponsors of the Scone project, please see the Scone project web page.  Of course, none of the above are in any way responsible for the content posted here.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, material posted on the Knowledge Nuggets blog is Copyright © (date of posting), Scott E. Fahlman.