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Solving the Riddle of AI

Artificial Intelligence

Computers can be taught to play chess, drive cars, recognize faces, understand speech, and talk to us. How did we endow computers with this level of artificial intelligence? And how much further can we go in getting them to reason like human beings, think for themselves, and demonstrate common sense?

Solving the Riddle of AI

Researchers turn to three main sources for clues about how to build intelligent machines: philosophy and logic (thinking, abstractly, about thinking); life (studying smart animals, including us); and engineering (examining intelligent behavior in the machines we build).

All three approaches have led to advances, and all three are still actively pursued.

The artificial intelligence problem is taken to be that of making a machine behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving.

John McCarthy1955
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)

The roots of MIT’s CSAIL go back to the AI lab founded in 1959 by John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky.

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Creating the Tools for AI

The quest for Artificial Intelligence, begun in computer science’s infancy, stimulated new software languages, algorithms, and computer hardware.

The programming language LISP (“list processing”), invented in 1958 by John McCarthy at MIT, became the “lingua franca” for AI. Many AI algorithms became a standard part of the computer scientist’s toolbox.

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LMI Lambda

LISP, the preferred language for AI, ran slowly on expensive conventional computers. This specialized LISP computer, both faster and cheaper, was based on the CADR machine designed at MIT by Richard Greenblatt and Thomas Knight.

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Symbolics advertisement

More than a dozen MIT “hackers” worked at Symbolics to commercialize MIT’s LISP machine technology, but their relationship with those still at MIT became rocky.

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3620 LISP workstation CPU

Symbolics emerged from MIT’s AI Lab and in 1981 began making LISP machines for AI research and commercial applications. The 3600 series also supported high-resolution color graphics and had sophisticated movie animation software.

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AI computer

Japan encouraged research in artificial intelligence based on the Prolog programming language. This personal computer for AI education came with voice recognition software and a touch pad.

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LISP Machines advertisement

Two spin-off LISP machines from MIT competed after Richard Greenblatt of LISP Machines split with Symbolics founder Russell Noftsker over the funding strategy.

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Who Studied AI?

Universities led early AI research: Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Stanford, later joined by the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Much early funding came from governments, particularly the military.

Starting in the 1980s, the Japanese government invested heavily in a largely unsuccessful “Fifth Generation Computer” project focused on AI and parallel computing.

SEGA AI advertisement

While SEGA’s hardware was advanced for a small PC, many of the 18 games released in Japan for this computer were considered dull.

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SEGA AI advertisement

SEGA’s AI computer used a scaled-down version of the logic programming language Prolog, which was originally designed for much larger machines.

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Try the classic computer psychiatrist program, Eliza, written between 1964-66 by MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum.

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