Artificial intelligence (AI) may lack an agreed-upon definition, but someone writing about its history must have some kind of definition in mind. For me, artificial intelligence is that activity devoted to making machines intelligent, and intelligence is that quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment. According to that definition, lots of things – humans, animals, and some machines – are intelligent. Machines, such as “smart cameras,” and many animals are at the primitive end of the extended continuum along which entities with various degrees of intelligence are arrayed. At the other end are humans, who are able to reason, achieve goals, understand and generate language, perceive and respond to sensory inputs, prove mathematical theorems, play challenging games, synthesize and summarize information, create art and music, and even write histories. Because “functioning appropriately and with foresight” requires so many different capabilities, depending on the environment, we actually have several continua of intelligences with no particularly sharp discontinuities in any of them. For these reasons, I take a rather generous view of what constitutes AI. That means that my history of the subject will, at times, include some control engineering, some electrical engineering, some statistics, some linguistics, some logic, and some computer science.
There have been other histories of AI, but time marches on, as has AI, so a new history needs to be written. I have participated in the quest for artificial intelligence for fifty years – all of my professional life and nearly all of the life of the field.