DARPA grants BBN $30M for “Universal Reading System”

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Wow. DARPA just granted BBN a $30M contract (US dollars, of course), spread over 5 years, to develop a “universal reading system.”

I was amused by this quote from BBN’s press release, neatly worded in the subjunctive:

Prem Natarajan, vice president, Speech and Language Processing, BBN Technologies, said, “The machine reading system that DARPA envisions is not evolutionary, but revolutionary. Such a system could eliminate many of the impediments to stability that our military faces such as a lack of understanding of local customs, and give us the ability to assess global technology developments continuously.”

It’s nice to envision something revolutionary, but here’s what BBN says its going to do:

BBN will leverage its expertise in natural language processing and distillation to develop a universal text engine that captures knowledge from text and transforms it into the formal representations required by artificial intelligence systems.

DARPA’s been promoting this approach to “event extraction” (basically populating a Minsky-style frame from text) in pretty much the same way since the Message Understanding Conferences (MUC) and before. The DARPA call for proposals would be not unfamiliar to an AI researcher from the 1970s.

I found this announcement in

which linked to this

The titles are perhaps more revealing of the authors than the proposal and grant.

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