A Brief History of AI

An outline of what happened in the last 60 years in AI

Francesco Corea


I. The origins

In spite of all the current hype, AI is not a new field of study, but it has its ground in the fifties. If we exclude the pure philosophical reasoning path that goes from the Ancient Greek to Hobbes, Leibniz, and Pascal, AI as we know it has been officially started in 1956 at Dartmouth College, where the most eminent experts gathered to brainstorm on intelligence simulation.

This happened only a few years after Asimov set his own three laws of robotics, but more relevantly after the famous paper published by Turing (1950), where he proposes for the first time the idea of a thinking machine and the more popular Turing test to assess whether such machine shows, in fact, any intelligence.

As soon as the research group at Dartmouth publicly released the contents and ideas arisen from that summer meeting, a flow of government funding was reserved for the study of creating a nonbiological intelligence.

II. The phantom menace

At that time, AI seemed to be easily reachable, but it turned out that was not the case. At the end of the sixties, researchers realized that AI was indeed a tough field to manage, and the initial spark that brought the funding started dissipating.

This phenomenon, which characterized AI along its all history, is commonly known as “AI effect”, and is made of two parts:

i) The constant promise of a real AI coming in the following decade;

ii) The discounting of the AI behavior after it mastered a certain problem, redefining continuously what intelligence means.

In the United States, the reason for DARPA to fund AI research was mainly due to the idea of creating a perfect machine translator, but two consecutive events wrecked that proposal, beginning what it is going to be called later on the first AI winter.



Francesco Corea

Data science @ Greycroft. Previously @Balderton @Anthemis @UCLA. All opinions are my own.