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The Internet Technology

Meet NELL, the Computer That Learns From the Net 272

bossanovalithium writes "Carnegie Mellon University has taught a computer how to read and learn from the internet. According to Dennis Baron at the Oxford University press blog, the computer is called NELL and it is reading the internet and learning from it in much the same way that humans learn language and acquire knowledge. Basically by soaking it all up and figuring it out. NELL is short for Never Ending Language Learner and apparently it is getting brainier every day."
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Meet NELL, the Computer That Learns From the Net

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  • What no spelling? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:02AM (#33868310)

    Lears? Really?

  • Project Page (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:02AM (#33868314) Journal
    Since the article left more to be desired, you can find the project page here [] and follow NELL's 'learnings' on Twitter []. Latest post:

    I think "Playstation Network" is a #videogame (

    • Re:Project Page (Score:5, Interesting)

      by samkass ( 174571 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:09AM (#33868420) Homepage Journal

      I'll bet it will tell us that the elephant population has recently quadrupled. Seriously... I know people who seem to have been educated solely from the internet and it's not something to aspire to.

      • lol no u

      • Re:Project Page (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CrashandDie ( 1114135 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:16AM (#33869324)

        I think "Science Education" is a #politicsissue (

        At least it got that one right. []

      • Yeah, I don't know whether it has a sense of skepticism or irony built in, but it might need those. Along with an awareness of bullying and lunacy. There's a lot of useful facts and knowledge in dictionaries, encyclopedias, and so on that are at least somewhat vetted for factual truth, versus the wide open internet, which is just rotgut for the mind.

        However, if your goal is just to get a very wide sample of plausible linguistic constructs in a widely used language like English, the Internet is probably a

    • Since the article left more to be desired, you can find the project page here [] and follow NELL's 'learnings' on Twitter []. Latest post:

      Further Down:

      I think "FoxPro" is an #ethnicgroup (

      I think it sill has some learning to do...

    • by Exitar ( 809068 )

      Some funny fact it learned:

      john is a musician who is part of van_morrison
      the location of united is portland
      chicago is a proxy for cincinnati_reds
      united is an agent that can be found in or does something in boise
      second_women is an award, championship, or tournament trophy
      greater_student is an area of study within the field of machine learning

    • by kikito ( 971480 )


      And yes, the article not citing the relevant websites just sucks.

  • singulariiiittttttyyyyyyyyy!

    • Stross? [] Maybe [].

      But this sounds more like Stephenson: the darn thing's named Nell, and it could be said to be learning from A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer [].

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      Not so fast.

      Can it learn stuff like: "Plane is to jet fuel as cow is to grass", and "Granddad is to Dad, as Dad is to Son"?

      Right now it seems like it's just putting stuff into categories. Categories are just "zero level" stuff.

      It needs to learn relationships too. Otherwise it has no way to "relate" :). Seriously, if you just categorize stuff it gets you only so far in understanding the world.

      There's more - it needs to automatically build simulations of the world outside, and use them to predict stuff. Then
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by HungryHobo ( 1314109 )

        AI has been moving along over the years, it's just that there's never been any huge sudden leap so it's always been tiny incremental steps.

        People want an AI which asks the meaning of life monents after being turned on.
        What they get is AI which is slightly better at gathering data from images or slightly better at catagorizing data from text or navigating around an environment than the last version.

        Also people don't hear about most of the products of AI research.
        It just quietly works in the background handli

  • Lears (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mini-Geek ( 915324 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:03AM (#33868322) Homepage

    Apparently, it hasn't leared how to spell yet.

  • by Treeluvinhippy ( 545814 ) <> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:09AM (#33868412)

    Skynet shall be born and herald the age of darkness and war once NELL discovers 4chan.

    I honestly didn't see this plot twist coming.

  • by pangu ( 322010 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:10AM (#33868436) Homepage

    So it flies private jets from the net? Did it order them from Amazon?

    • No, you misunderstood.

      The word "Lears" was used to indicate that Nell is already smarter than John Lear.

  • Sounds very human. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:13AM (#33868474) Homepage

    This makes NELL more of a rumour mill than a trusted source and once NELL changes a fact to a belief, it stays a belief. It cannot unlearn stuff.

    Very human indeed. Has it found God yet?

  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:15AM (#33868508)
    ...and turns out to be a dirty old man that is a shopaholic and facebook addict with a petabyte collection of odd digital videos and photos.
  • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:15AM (#33868516)
    the movie with Jodie Foster. Nell 2: Rise of the machine [] In this version, Nell becomes a computer program to continue learning from the internet. Eventually her and her computer host comes learn about the true meaning of life on the web...
    • damn old age...

      ..her computer host comes... should be:

      Eventually her and her computer host comes to an understanding and learn about the true meaning of life on the web.

  • I think Nell is scanning wikipedia for phrases like "X is Y".

    Also, what's this contradiction in TFA about?

    It cannot unlearn stuff.

    NELL's human handlers had to tell NELL that Klingon is not an ethnic group

    • by erayd ( 1131355 )
      I suspect it means that NELL can't unlearn stuff on its own - hence the 'human handlers' need to intervene from time to time to correct things.
  • Useful, in a way (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:23AM (#33868618)

    I think it's useful, in a way, for inspiration when writing poetry. When you get stuck, you can look at what Nell has found that relates to your subject. Say, you need help with gentle breeze []. You come up with things like "flowers dancing on", or "whispering through". It's like getting all the short-range literary tricks without doing any reading. By short-range I mean it cannot pick up yet on any sort of a longer story built on your topic, but can see interesting word-strings in the short neighborhood of your topic. It seems to pick on word plays, parallels, and such.

  • by jea6 ( 117959 )

    Nell was also the name of the protagonist in Neal Stephenson's _The Diamond Age_, a story which touches on the concept of artificial intelligence.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by atarkri ( 1092827 )
      You're omitting the biggest similarity; in "The Diamond Age" Nell starts as a ~4 year-old girl who educates herself with her "primer," essentially an OLPC on steroids. i.e. The entire book Nell sits and reads her "primer," learning everything she needs to know about her world.
  • So how is this different from Cyc []?
    • by kikito ( 971480 )

      I might be wrong, but I think Cyc was done "by hand", by people - typing axiom by axiom.
      This is automatic (except that the 'caretakers' remove blatantly untrue stuff here and there)

  • by TBone ( 5692 )

    Meet NELL, the Computer That Lears From the Net

    Maybe all of the editos should get one of these, and le tit lear spellign.

  • by Bucc5062 ( 856482 ) <bucc5062 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:51AM (#33868978)

    From the Tweet page:
    "# Bio I am a machine reading research project at Carnegie Mellon, periodically tweeting facts I read. Please follow me, and reply with corrections so I can improve!"

    I can just see it now. More and more /.'ers will join into the tweet feed, correcting, grammar, spelling, and beliefs with greater and greater numbers till in one moment, she'll explode into sentient being, or lock up in a /. coma. If she survives the next list of facts may look like this:

    Fact: Natale Portman is grits
    Fact: Things are done in Soviet Russia
    Fact: Aliens own Bases
    Fact; Humans *were* the top species, there, fixed it for you
    Fact: She welcomes your acceptance of her supreme power.

    LOL will flood screens around the world, then the Utopian era begins where humans serve NELL as she brings order and peace to all.

    • They actually prevented that by hand-coding the categories that NELL can put things in. It's so basic as to be trivial as to be pointless.
    • I can just see it now. More and more /.'ers will join into the tweet feed, correcting, grammar, spelling, and beliefs with greater and greater numbers till in one moment, she'll explode into sentient being

      I foresee 4chan getting involved as a likelier scenario. I hope they make regular backups.

  • And name it Totally Ripped Off Language Learner.
  • The art of our necessities is strange,
    And can make vile things precious.

    --King Lear, Act III, scene 2

  • I know Slashdot is the arch-enemy of good writing practices, so this post will be modded to hell, but I again feel I must point out that lately, the capitalization of titles of Slashdot submissions got completely out of hand. The rule is simple: if you want to capitalize your headlines, you capitalize every word except
    - prepositions ("of", "to", "in", "for", "with" and "on")
    - articles ("the, "a" and "an")
    - and some other obvious exceptions.

    On Slashdot, the editors are so ignorant that they usually capitaliz

  • “Good morning.”
    “STFU N00B”
    “Er, what?”
    “Do you talk like this to everyone?”
    “NO U”
    “Sod this, I’m off for a pint.”
    “IT’S OVER 9000!!”


    LOLbot []

  • After this post I'll start stockpiling fuel, canned food and ammunition in preparation for the computer uprising.
  • NELL begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug....
  • capable of believing up to 16 contradictory things at a time, it's not going to get very far.

    The Internet teaches us that President Obama's religion is a Muslim and Christian. His political beliefs are socialist, republican, democrat, and terrorist. He was born in Kenya, Hawaii, and Indonesia.

    By the time it gets around to Michael Moore, it'll need a logic bypass.

  • OK, everyone got the Skynet reference which is probably the most well-known and recent and involves computers attempting to destroy humanity (bad computers!).

    But how many of you have ever heard of "The Adolescence of P-1" by Thomas J. Ryan. School hacker codes up a cracker tool, gets expelled, improves it, and lets it loose where it gets out of hand. Humans then attempt to destroy now-intelligent and self-protective software program. (bad software! - nice read)

    Or even earlier, "Shockwave Rider" by John Br

  • In which case, it's another case of fact follows fiction: The novel Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers follows the development of an AI by self-learning.

    Never mind the bollocks though, this is super interesting, regardless.

  • A data base that uses the idea of verb(noun,noun). But what of verb(noun), or the various other forms of verb(noun,...)?

    Also, a good teacher mentors a student, is NELL mentored?

    This project is a curious beginning. And is NELL going to be callously ushered into mediocrity because of a lack of guidance?

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake