Foundational AI

Artificial Intelligence has had a lot of press recently. It has been touted as the next big advance in developing new drugs to defeat pandemics, or to solve the world’s economic problems and food shortages. On the other hand, it has also been seen as a tool for global disinformation, as the newest tool of war akin to the atom bomb at the end of WWII. And finally, as a possible future super intelligence that might decide to wipe out humanity. There are several current political efforts to legislate curbs to some of its developments.

Where did all of this start? And where will it all end? We begin here with four of the seminal papers in AI.

  1. First is Alan Turing’s “Computing machinery and intelligence” published in 1950, in which he poses the question, “can machines think?” This paper is the vision that starts it all. Turing described a number of different areas of applications where he believed machines might well be able to exceed human capabilities, including, e.g., game playing, solving puzzles, speaking a human language and recognition of geometric patterns among others. Turing also proposed a test for machine intelligence which became known as the “Turing Test”.
  2. Second is Marvin Minsky’s analysis of the future of AI some 12 years later, aptly entitled “Steps Towards Artificial Intelligence”.
  3. Third is the “Lighthill Report“: A report by Sir James Lighthill, commissioned by the British Science Research Council in 1972 to clarify the status of research in Artificial Intelligence for its members and to aid them in decisions about funding research proposals in AI. This report was critical of the current work in AI saying that its results were meager in comparison with the overly ambitious claims of its proponents. This led to a televised debate between Sir James Lighthill and various proponents of AI in 1973. This is a link to Sir james’ report and some of the ensuing debate. Elsewhere on this website we will speculate as to how Sir James might, or might not, revise his opinions of AI today.
  4. And finally, we include an analysis of the progress in developing AI around 2012 from the man who coined the title “Artificial Intelligence”, John McCarthy: What is AI?

These four papers will give the reader a good understanding of what the AI vision was in the beginning, and from there an ability to understand all the published developments and bruhaha, both technical and political, around AI today.