The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence is working to teach computers to answer science questions at a grade-school level — a task that might sound simple, but requires the computer to decipher images, diagrams and understand the contextual meaning of what is written.

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Three years into its mission to research an emerging field of technology, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence is finding the value of its nonprofit status.

The Seattle organization, created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and the “little sister” to the Allen Institute for Brain Science, employs a nimble team of researchers and engineers to develop artificial intelligence technology.

But AI2, as it is known, doesn’t have to focus on making money or guarding its information from competitors, CEO Oren Etzioni said.

“Our goal is scientific breakthrough,” he said.

AI2’s team of 72 members is working to teach computers to answer science questions at a grade-school level — a task that might sound simple, but requires the computer to decipher images, diagrams and understand the contextual meaning of what is written.

“It’s a paradox,” Etzioni said. “Often things that are easiest for people are the things that are hardest for the machine.”

The organization focuses on researchers and engineers working side-by-side, a practice that encourages new and different ideas, Etzioni said.

Eventually, AI2 plans to create a software platform that enables scientists to quickly do research. The artificial intelligence software would be able to scan and understand the information from hundreds of thousands of studies and scientific journal articles and pull out relevant information, saving valuable time for researchers.

University of Washington associate professor Luke Zettlemoyer recently joined the nonprofit as a senior research manager to concentrate on building tools to help machines understand the nuances of text.

Zettlemoyer earned his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been at the University of Washington for nearly seven years.

“Humans store knowledge mostly in text,” Zettlemoyer said. “We want to unlock all the knowledge and put it in actionable form.”

Etzioni expects AI2 to expand to about 80 people in the next year, bolstered by the support of Paul Allen’s infrastructure in Seattle. AI2 regularly hires from the Allen School at the UW, for example, and Allen’s company Vulcan does its legal and payroll work so the nonprofit can focus on its research.