About this Article
Written by: Jie Ma
Written on: April 6th, 2001
Tags: computer science
Thumbnail by: Alejandro zorrilal Cruz/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Jie Ma was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California.
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Volume I Issue II > Silicon Smarts: Artificially Intelligent Computers
The field of artificial intelligence (AI) incorporates many disparate disciplines. In the past few decades, theoretical work done in the field has made technological breakthroughs, such as expert systems and interactive robots, possible. These artificially intelligence systems touch our everyday lives, and new AI developments hold even more promise to benefit mankind.

The Basics of AI

Artificial intelligence has been making unprecedented advances in recent years. This rapidly-developing discipline synthesizes a plethora of varied disciplines, including, but not limited to, non-technical fields such as biology, psychology, sociology, and even philosophy. Developments in artificial intelligence, subsequently, have profound effects on these fields. The complexity of the artificial intelligence field leaves many people confused about what it precisely entails. Here, we present a basic idea of what artificial intelligence is and where it is heading.

The Early Days of AI

The field of artificial intelligence is relatively young. The creation of Artificial Intelligence as an academic discipline can be traced to the 1950s, when scientists and researchers began to consider the possibility of machines processing intellectual capabilities similar to those of human beings (Fig. 1). Alan Turing, a British mathematician, first proposed a test to determine whether or not a machine is intelligent. The test later became known as the Turing Test, in which a machine tries to disguise itself as a human being in an imitation game by giving human-like responses to a series of questions. Turing believed that if a machine could make a human being believe that he or she is communicating with another human being, then the machine can be considered as intelligent as a human being.
Alejandro zorrilal Cruz/Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: The field of artificial intelligence has become an academic discipline that considers the possibility that machines can have similar intellectual abilities as humans.
The term "artificial intelligence" itself was created in 1956 by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John McCarthy. McCarthy created the term for a conference he was organizing that year. The conference, which was later called the Dartmouth Conference by AI researchers, established AI as a distinct discipline. The conference also defined the major goals of AI: to understand and model the thought processes of humans and to design machines that mimic this behavior.
Much of the AI research in the period between 1956 and 1966 was theoretical in nature. The very first AI program, the Logic Theorist, was presented at the Dartmouth Conference and was able to prove mathematical theorems. Several other primitive AI programs with limited capabilities followed. One of these was "Sad Sam," a program written by Robert K. Lindsay in 1960 that understood simple English sentences and was capable of drawing conclusions from facts learned in a conversation [1]. Another was ELIZA, a program developed in 1967 by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT that was capable of simulating the responses of a therapist to patients. ELIZA's ability to use natural language makes it appear intelligent. ELIZA was close to passing the Turing Test, albeit in a controlled environment, that is, a conversation between a patient and a psychiatrist.
With more and more successful demonstrations of the feasibility of AI, the focus of AI research shifted. Researchers turned their attention to solving specific problems in areas of possible AI application. This shift in research focus gave rise to the present-day definition of AI, that is, "a variety of research areas concerned with extending the ability of the computer to do tasks that resemble those performed by human beings," as V. Daniel Hunt puts it in his 1988 article "The Development of Artificial Intelligence" [2]. Some of the most interesting areas of current AI research include expert systems, neural networks, and robotics.