Artificial Intelligence as a research field was born in the summer of 1956 during a seminal workshop at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was just a year before that when Marvin Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester, Claude Shannon and John McCarthy proposed that they should hold a workshop to put together a roadmap about how to make machines think and learn similarly to humans. The ultimate goal was to discover computational models in order to enable machines to do commonsense reasoning. Today, John McCarthy is rightly considered the father of AI. I should note that the term “Artificial Intelligence” appeared for the first time in the proposal put forth by the previously mentioned scientists. And so this new discipline that would eventually captivate everyone’s imagination was born.
Artificial Intelligence had its ups and downs in the last 50 years. Early success solving small problems in simulation ignited a flurry of predictions about super intelligent machines taking over the world before the coming of the 21st century. Hampered by a lack of a good understanding of how commonsense reasoning works in people and a lack of computational resources, computers being very slow up until the mid nineties, AI research stalled in the 80s. Many people rushed to dismiss it as nothing more than hot air.
However, science is all about proposing and testing new theories in order to find the best ones. Since the mid-90s, AI research has advanced by leaps and bounds. We now have a better understanding of how the human brain works and that has helped us to find and test better computational models for AI. These in turn have also helped us to better understand the functions of the human brain. New techniques such as statistical analysis are helping intelligent agents to copy with large amounts of information and noisy sensors. Faster computers with vast amounts of storage are allowing us to experiment in more challenging domains and solve larger problems.
It is true that AI has not yet been able to produce a machine capable of commonsense reasoning. However, by specialization, many AI systems are actually running our world today. AI helps us fly airplanes and drive our cars. It aids doctors perform surgery. It helps us find information in the vastness of the World Wide Web. It helps us discover spam email and promptly delete it. It helps us schedule traffic lights and public transportation. It helps us analyze financial markets and make predictions about the outcome of sports events. It aids in surveillance of public spaces improving security and safety. These are only a small sample of the penetration of intelligent systems in our daily lives. Artificial Intelligence is here to stay and I bet it won’t be long before we have the understanding, methods and resources to finally construct thinking and learning machines. Let us wish and hope that such technology would only be used to benefit mankind and not destroy it.
You can find lots of information about AI’ and its50th birthday on the Internet. However, I think that best reading about this topic is the 1955 proposal for the AI workshop. You can read it at http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/history/dartmouth/dartmouth.html