History of Artificial Intelligence

Advances in artificial intelligence and the science behind it can be broken into a few main chapters, described below:

AI in Fiction

Works of fiction detailing inanimate beings that display consciousness date back centuries. However, the first meaningful milestones in the history of artificial intelligence are tied to the invention of the computer and the early study of formal and mechanical reasoning.

Turing and Early Theory of Computation

Study of the theory of computation suggested that machines would be able to simulate a wide range of deductive acts through binary operations. The Turing-Church thesis eventually proposed that any “effectively calculable function is a computable function”, meaning that anything that a human can calculate through an algorithmic process, a machine can too calculate.

These ideas eventually led researchers in neurology and cybernetics to begin exploring the idea of building an electronic brain. Walter Pitts and Warren McCulloch formally proposed designs for artificial neurons in 1943.

Dartmouth and the Formalization of AI Research

In 1956, at a workshop at Dartmouth college, several leaders from universities and companies began to formalize the study of artificial intelligence. This group of individuals included Arthur Samuel from IBM, Allen Newell and Herbert Simon from CMU, and John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky from MIT. This team and their students began developing some of the early AI programs that learned checkers strategies, spoke English, and solved word problems, which were very significant developments.

Increased Computing Power Enables AI Revolution

After this initial burst of progress in the 1950’s, little more progress was made until the late 90’s, when increases in computing power made it possible to apply machine learning techniques that were very slow when computational resources were more limited. This led to artificial intelligence/machine learning techniques being applied to several fields, including medical diagnosis, data mining, and logistics planning.

Continued and steady progress has been made since, with such milestones as IBM’s Watson winning Jeopardy! and the release of Xbox Kinect which reads and responds to body motion and voice control. Additionally, artificial intelligence based code libraries that enable image and speech recognition are becoming more widely available and easier to use. Thus, these AI techniques, that were once unusable because of limitations in computing power, have become accessible to any developer willing to learn how to use them.