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A (Very) Brief History of Artificial Intelligence

A (Very) Brief History of Artificial Intelligence

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Published by Amir Masoud Abdol

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Published by: Amir Masoud Abdol on Jan 21, 2009
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08/18/2012

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In this brief history, the beginnings of artificial in-telligence are traced to philosophy, fiction, andimagination. Early inventions in electronics, engi-neering, and many other disciplines have influ-enced AI. Some early milestones include work inproblems solving which included basic work inlearning, knowledge representation, and inferenceas well as demonstration programs in language un-derstanding, translation, theorem proving, associa-tive memory, and knowledge-based systems. Thearticle ends with a brief examination of influentialorganizations and current issues facing the field.
T
he history of AI is a history of fantasies,possibilities, demonstrations, andpromise. Ever since Homer wrote of me-chanical “tripods” waiting on the gods at din-ner, imagined mechanical assistants have beena part of our culture. However, only in the lasthalf century have we, the AI community, beenable to build experimental machines that testhypotheses about the mechanisms of thoughtand intelligent behavior and thereby demon-strate mechanisms that formerly existed onlyas theoretical possibilities. Although achievingfull-blown artificial intelligence remains in thefuture, we must maintain the ongoing dialogueabout the implications of realizing thepromise.
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Philosophers have floated the possibility of intelligent machines as a literary device to helpus define what it means to be human. RenéDescartes, for example, seems to have beenmore interested in “mechanical man” as ametaphor than as a possibility. Gottfried Wil-helm Leibniz, on the other hand, seemed to seethe possibility of mechanical reasoning devicesusing rules of logic to settle disputes. Both Leib-niz and Blaise Pascal designed calculating ma-chines that mechanized arithmetic, which hadhitherto been the province of learned mencalled “calculators,” but they never made theclaim that the devices could think. EtienneBonnot, Abbé de Condillac used the metaphorof a statue into whose head we poured nuggetsof knowledge, asking at what point it wouldknow enough to appear to be intelligent.Science fiction writers have used the possibil-ity of intelligent machines to advance the fan-tasy of intelligent nonhumans, as well as tomake us think about our own human charac-teristics. Jules Verne in the nineteenth centuryand Isaac Asimov in the twentieth are the bestknown, but there have been many others in-cluding L. Frank Baum, who gave us the
Wiz-ard of Oz.
Baum wrote of several robots and de-scribed the mechanical man Tiktok in 1907, forexample, as an “Extra-Responsive, Thought-Creating, Perfect-Talking Mechanical Man …Thinks, Speaks, Acts, and Does Everything butLive.” These writers have inspired many AI re-searchers.Robots, and artificially created beings such asthe Golem in Jewish tradition and MaryShelly’s Frankenstein, have always captured thepublic’s imagination, in part by playing on ourfears. Mechanical animals and dolls—includinga mechanical trumpeter for which Ludwig vanBeethoven wrote a fanfare—were actually builtfrom clockwork mechanisms in the seven-teenth century. Although they were obviouslylimited in their performance and were intend-ed more as curiosities than as demonstrationsof thinking, they provided some initial credi-bility to mechanistic views of behavior and tothe idea that such behavior need not be feared.As the industrial world became more mecha-nized, machinery became more sophisticated
25th Anniversary Issue
WINTER 2005 53
Copyright © 2005, American Association for Artificial Intelligence. All rights reserved. 0738-4602-2005 / $2.00
A (Very)Brief History of Artificial Intelligence
 Bruce G. Buchanan
 
mechanical engineering than with intelligentcontrol. Recently, though, robots have becomepowerful vehicles for testing our ideas about in-telligent behavior. Moreover, giving robotsenough common knowledge about everydayobjects to function in a human environmenthas become a daunting task. It is painfully ob-vious, for example, when a moving robot can-not distinguish a stairwell from a shadow. Nev-ertheless, some of the most resoundingsuccesses of AI planning and perception meth-ods are in NASA’s autonomous vehicles inspace. DARPA’s grand challenge for au-tonomous vehicles was recently won by a Stan-ford team, with 5 of 23 vehicles completing the131.2-mile course.
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But AI is not just about robots. It is alsoabout understanding the nature of intelligentthought and action using computers as experi-mental devices. By 1944, for example, Herb Si-mon had laid the basis for the information-pro-cessing, symbol-manipulation theory of psychology:
“Any rational decision may be viewed as a con-clusion reached from certain premises…. Thebehavior of a rational person can be controlled,therefore, if the value and factual premises up-on which he bases his decisions are specified forhim.” (Quoted in the Appendix to Newell & Si-mon [1972]).
AI in its formative years was influenced byand more commonplace. But it was still essen-tially clockwork.Chess is quite obviously an enterprise thatrequires thought. It is not too surprising, then,that chess-playing machines of the eighteenthand nineteenth centuries, most notably “theTurk,” were exhibited as intelligent machinesand even fooled some people into believing themachines were playing autonomously. SamuelL. Clemens (“Mark Twain”) wrote in a newspa-per column, for instance, that the Turk must bea machine because it played so well! Chess waswidely used as a vehicle for studying inferenceand representation mechanisms in the earlydecades of AI work. (A major milestone wasreached when the Deep Blue program defeatedthe world chess champion, Gary Kasparov, in1997 [McCorduck 2004].)With early twentieth century inventions inelectronics and the post–World War II rise of modern computers in Alan Turing’s laboratoryin Manchester, the Moore School at Penn,Howard Aiken’s laboratory at Harvard, the IBMand Bell Laboratories, and others, possibilitieshave given over to demonstrations. As a resultof their awesome calculating power, computersin the 1940s were frequently referred to as “gi-ant brains.”Although robots have always been part of the public’s perception of intelligent comput-ers, early robotics efforts had more to do with
The Turk, from a 1789 Engraving by Freiherr Joseph Friedrich zu Racknitz.
25th Anniversary Issue
54AI MAGAZINE
 Baum Described Tik-Tok as an “Extra-Respon-sive, Thought-Creating, Perfect-Talking Mechani-cal Man … Thinks, Speaks, Acts, and Does Everything but Live.”
 
25th Anniversary Issue
WINTER 2005 55
 Photo courtesy, DARPA.
On October 8, 2005, the Stanford Racing Team's Autonomous Robotic Car, Stanley,Won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Grand Challenge.
The car traversed the off-road desert course southwest of Las Vegas in a little less than seven hours.
 Photo Courtesy, NASA
 Mars Rover.

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