Artificial Intelligence (AI) has had a turbulent history. It has alternated between periods of optimism and periods of pessimism. Why does this field of computer science evoke such strong feelings? What has it achieved in the past and what can we expect of it in the future?
I will present my personal view of the nature of AI research and use this to try to answer some of the questions above.
A Potted History of Artificial Intelligence
In artificial intelligence we attempt to emulate human (and other animal) mental abilities using computer programs and associated hardware.
The goal of building an intelligent artificial entity is a potent one and has excited enthusiasts throughout history. The advent of the electronic computer reinvigorated this enthusiasm and initiated the field of artificial intelligence. The first call to arms came from Alan Turing's classic 1950 paper in Mind, (reprinted in Turing (1963)), but the birth of the field can be dated from the 1956 Dartmouth conference, which AI pioneers like McCarthy, Minsky, Newell and Simon attended.
These were heady days. The pioneers were young and conscious of the power of the new computing machinery. They quickly discovered some new computational techniques which appeared to be the key to general-purpose intelligence. The prospects for artificial intelligence looked good. Large-scale projects sprang up to take advantage of the new technology. Unfortunately, these pioneers drastically underestimated the difficulties of AI and made optimistic predictions that have proved to be an embarrassment to the field.
By the end of the 60s it was clear that AI had not made the predicted progress. Many promising new computational techniques had not scaled up to real problems.