How did we get to artificial intelligence (AI)? The idea of producing inanimate objects has been there for a long, long time. The ancient Greeks had myths about robots, while the ancient Chinese built humanoid figures, while the ancient Egyptians created automatons.
Non-human beings capable of thought and feelings were also portrayed a lot in fiction in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R.). These characters and their fates raised several of the same issues now discussed in the ethics of artificial intelligence.
The origins of modern AI hark back to classical philosophers’ attempts to define human thinking as a symbolic system. However, the field of AI was not formally introduced until 1956, at a conference at Dartmouth College. It was a month-long brainstorming session that was attended by people who began to have an interest in AI. It was also around the time when the term “artificial intelligence” was coined.
During the conference, attendees wrote programs that were amazing at the time, enabling them to beat people in games such as checkers or word games. A cognitive scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Marvin Minsky, who attended the conference, was extremely optimistic about AI’s future. He was quoted as saying: “Within a generation […] the problem of creating ‘artificial intelligence’ will substantially be solved.”
Unfortunately, achieving an artificially intelligent being wasn’t so simple, and it was something that AI advocates failed to realize. They attempted to bring human characteristics, such as emotions and common sense but failed. According to a report about AI written by mathematician James Lighthill: “in no part of the field have discoveries made so far produced the major impact that was then promised.” After that report and other reports that criticized AI, interest and funding for the field dwindled, marking the period during the 1970’s and 1980’s, known as the “AI winter.”
The revival of interest towards AI occurred during the 1980’s due to the rise of expert systems (and “expert system” refers to a computer system that simulates a human being’s decision-making abilities). By 1985, about a billion dollars were spent on AI research.
However, funding for the AI was pulled out again, coinciding with the collapse of early-generation computers (such as Lisp), which started an even more extended period of “AI winter.”
But after that, AI research resumed during the 1990’s and 2000’s. Because computers were now becoming faster and focus was more directed on solving specific problems, it was now possible to use AI in applications such as data mining and medical diagnosis.
In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue became the first computer program to defeat the Russian chess world champion, Garry Kasparov. In 2011, IBM’s Watson won the quiz show Jeopardy! by beating reigning champions, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.
In 2014, a chatbot named “Eugene Goostman” tricked the judges into thinking he was a real human being during a Turing test. Developed by the late British mathematician Alan Turing in 1950, the Turing test determines a computer’s ability to communicate indistinguishably from a human.
However, this accomplishment was questionable, with AI experts contending only a third of the judges were tricked. They also pointed out that the chatbot was able to dodge some questions by claiming that Eugene Goostman was a 13-year-old boy who spoke English as a second language (hence, the minor grammatical errors in his responses).
A lot of experts now believe that the Turing test is not a good determinant of artificial intelligence. In fact, some scientists are planning to create an updated version of the test.
In 2016, the computer program AlphaGo won in a Go match versus champion Lee Sedol, four out of five times. The following year, AlphaGo beat top-ranking Go player Ke Jie in a three-game match.
According to Bloomberg‘s Jack Clark, 2015 was the “landmark” year for AI. Google grew from a “sporadic usage” in 2012 to over 2,700 projects, thanks to many projects involving AI. In 2017, a survey showed that one out of five companies reported that they had “incorporated AI in some offerings or processes.” The scope of AI has become much broader than the mere quest of simulating real, human-like intelligence.